Simon Rogan and Tom Barnes share updates on UMBEL Group and Skof during Northern Restaurant & Bar keynote interview

“I always thought that Tom had the right attitude. He came from a great pedigree of restaurants - I thought he had amazing potential,” beamed Simon Rogan, MBE and Chef Patron at UMBEL Restaurant Group (home to big-hitting multi-Michelin-starred restaurants L’Enclume, Henrock and Rogan & Co to name a few), as he spoke of his protege Tom Barnes, set to open his own restaurant, Skof, in the coming months.

He joked that Barnes was a bit of a “hop-along” at first, literally, having joined L’Enclume with a broken leg. 

“My leg was in a cast so I sat down picking all the herbs and stuff. I wanted to get my foot in the door,” laughed Tom.

I want it to be a place where everyone can come and enjoy amazing food in a fun, friendly environment.

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Simon and Tom, hard at work together Image:

Simon went on to explain how he hadn’t fully realised Tom’s “true capabilities” until a while after he joined as he was in the process of opening Roganic in Marleybone and working in Manchester. 

“For the first few years, I was away from the kitchen at L’Enclume for quite a bit,” he added.

Tom returned back to L’Enclume after a stint of working at Geranium, a fine dining restaurant in Copenhagen, and between himself, Simon and Executive Chef Paul Burgalières, the team worked as a “driving force” to get L’Enclume to where it is today; a three Michelin star restaurant in the humble village of Cartmel, and the first of its kind in the north of England. 

“I remember my first day at L’Enclume,” said Tom, adding “Simon wasn't there straightaway. He came in about half an hour after I started with his wellies and his farming outfit on with a bucket full of Kohlrabi that he’d grown at [Our Farm]. He’d been harvesting them himself. I’d never seen anything like that before having worked in London, so that was my first impression of him.”

Simon then delved deeper into the conception of Our Farm and how he realised that the only way he was going to get produce the way he wanted it for the kitchens was by growing it himself. 

“I've always had the ambition to do that. When we opened the door to L’Enclume in late 2002, it was quite evident we weren't going to be able to get the quality ingredients that we wanted,” said Simon.

“Way back then, organic food was very expensive to buy through food suppliers but, just up the road from us, there was a small organic farm called Howbarrow.”

Simon approached the farm to see if they’d be interested in working together at the beginning. 

“We couldn’t afford to go completely organic because we didn’t have any money, so we were pretty limited on what we could buy off them, but he used to grow unusual herbs and flowers and leaves for us.” 

Now, Simon and his team operate Our Farm; a very successful, sustainable business that’s aim is to ‘strengthen the link between our food, its development and the environment’, further solidifying that relationship between cooking and growing. 

The farm operates year-round and generates enough produce to sustainably lead each restaurant through every season. 

Simon mentioned how every member of the team is involved in the farm and the food’s production. 

“Everyone has to spend time at the farm because that is the centre of everything we do,” he added.

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Simon and Tom being interviewed on stage at NR&B '24 by Lucy Noone-Blake Image: Confidentials

Like all farms, Our Farm is no stranger to being a slave to the elements and having to work with what they’re able to produce thanks to our wonderfully bipolar British weather. But Simon and his team are always one step ahead, able to meticulously plan their growing seasons and utilise all of the produce created to minimise waste. 

“I think that for me, that's the fun part,” said Tom, adding “In the Lake District, the weather changes quickly. One week we’ve got turnips this big, the next they’re massive. It’s the fun part of working with the best produce you can get. For me, it’s cheating to have 10 carrots and only use two of them because they’re the size you want and the rest aren’t, y’know?”

Tom will be using produce from Our Farm at his new Manchester restaurant, Skof, which is hopefully set to open towards the end of May. 

“I want it to be a place where everyone can come and enjoy amazing food in a fun, friendly environment. I’ve got a brilliant team - Shaun, our front of house, he’s amazing and makes everyone feel welcome. I want it to be that place where everyone can come and have a good time,” said Tom.

The menu for Skof is still to be revealed, but Tom mentioned that he’ll be including a dish that he used to cook for his father, who’s no longer with us. 

“I don’t want to say what it is, I want it to be a surprise, but that dish really means a lot to me and that recipe has a special place in my heart.”

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Tom Barnes in Manchester's NOMA district (where Skof will be located) Image: Tom Barnes

While you wait for Skof to throw open its doors, the team at Rogan & Co will be hosting ‘Local Heroes Week’ - a celebration of local talent. Book your table now.

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