A FORMER Millbrook schoolboy who began his cookery career by frying chips has been revealed as Britain’s top chef.
Simon Rogan, 45, has knocked Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant The Fat Duck off the top spot in The Good Food Guide’s annual top 50 ranking.
And Simon, originally from Lordswood, who runs the award-winning two Michelin-starred L’Enclume restaurant in the Lake District, couldn’t be happier.
“I’m delighted,” he said.
“It’s what you aspire to as a restaurateur.
“We hope we are just going to get better and better now.”
He is known for creating such quirky dishes as cod ‘yoke’ and oyster pebbles.
But the chef started out cooking chips and kebabs in a Greek restaurant in Southampton.
And if it wasn’t for an advert in the Echo he might never have embarked on his food career, which has seen him work with Jean- Christophe Novelli and Marco Pierre White, win the dessert course in the Great British Menu 2012 and be a mentor on MasterChef.
“I saw an ad in the Echo that the restaurant was looking for someone to work on Fridays and Saturdays,” said Simon, who was born in Shirley Warren.
“I went along and chopped up some cucumber and tomatoes and they gave the job to me!
“To start with my motivation was money. I was only 14 – it wouldn’t be legal now.
“It wasn’t that I particularly wanted to work but I wanted to have the money. I liked to have nice things like clothes. I was paid £22 a week – I was the richest person in my year!”
Simon, who went to Mansel Park Primary School, Oakwood Junior School and Millbrook Community School, went on to study at Southampton Technical College.
He said: “I thought I was the bees’ knees until I got to college and there were all these people who were at hotels in the New Forest. They were all better than me.
“So I quit my job at the Greek restaurant in Bedford Place and got an apprenticeship at Rhinefield House Hotel under Paul Norman.
“I went from being well paid to earning nothing but by that point it had stopped being about the money – I’d fallen in love with what I was doing and money didn’t matter anymore.
“I owe a huge debt to Paul Norman for what he taught me.”
Simon says that his interest in food may have been sparked by his father’s job at a wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Southampton.
He remembers his dad bringing unusual fruit home and watching all the restaurateurs visiting the market for supplies when he was waiting for his father to finish work.
Simon is set to open a new restaurant in London next year. There are no plans to open a restaurant in Southampton at the moment but it isn’t something he would rule out.
“The pull of opening a restaurant in your home town is quite strong,” he said.