Port visits the ever-revolving guest-chef restaurant in Marylebone
“Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain, or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that’s turning, running rings around the moon”
– The Windmills of Your Mind
Running a professional kitchen is stressful enough, least of all when your chef changes every other week. This revolving-door-guest-chef model, however, has confirmed Carousel’s status as one of the most exciting restaurants and creative spaces in London. Giving a platform to known and unknown cooks alike from all over the world, its restless programme and collaborative concept acts as a constantly moving palate cleanser, shifting from country to country with an ever-changing menu. Last year it celebrated five years of residencies, workshops and art exhibitions in its Marylebone home – roughly 150 different chefs from over 30 countries and 50 cities. Last year alone saw the likes of Yuji Tani from Tokyo, Pablo Lagrange from Barcelona and Marco Baccannelli and Francesca Barreca, the dynamic Roman couple responsible for Mazzo. It refuses to stand still for a second.
Port spoke to two of the founders – director Ed Templeton and head chef Ollie Templeton – about their curatorial process, seasonal cooking and dream collaborations.
How did this begin?
Ollie: Our dads were identical twins, so we always grouped up in each other’s pockets. They were in business together so we thought we’d do the same. We had no choice, really!
Ed: Olly was a chef working at Moro, I was working in advertising, Anna – TV, Will – music sales. We had complimentary skills and decided on pop ups, started offering immersive dining experiences. We got chefs from different parts of London to compete against each other and called it Rumble At The Deli. Quite quickly, we knew we needed a space and looked at railway arches in East London, what you’d expect. Randomly, this opportunity landed on our lap, lying empty, in the middle of Marylebone. At this point Carousel didn’t exist, so we got busy designing a concept and looked back at our events, which were fun and only competitive at a light-hearted level, it was more a collaboration. We loved working with different people so guest chefs made complete sense.
Ollie: Opening a restaurant was never part of the plan, but definitely a dream for all of us. If we were going to do it, we didn’t want it to be a normal restaurant, we’re going to do it our way, have long, communal tables, bring new chefs in all the time so it’s fresh and exciting. It’s also partly selfish, we wanted to bring the talent to us. From a chef’s perspective, it’s also a great way to learn and travel vicariously, soak up all that learning and experience.
What’s the curatorial or creative process bringing in these chefs? Do they come to you now?
Ollie: It’s as mix and it’s evolved a lot over the past five years. It becomes easier and easier as you meet more people and make more connections. Sadly we don’t have big budgets to fly all over the world discovering chefs, but I make a point to travel a lot personally, so food is always on the agenda for me. I’ll try to see the top five restaurants wherever I am. Someone’s got to have two lunches four days in a row!
Ollie: In the beginning it was very much friends of friends. Our very first chef, Javier Rodríguez, came from Argentina. He was in the process of opening a restaurant and he now runs three, all of which are critically acclaimed. He had a great background and really set it off, the level we wanted to be at. We’ve since worked with 150 different chefs from 30 countries across 50 cities. In the beginning, people assumed it was spam and wouldn’t reply. It took some phone calls and convincing. After carving a bit of a name for ourselves, sometimes I get a reply from chefs saying, ‘I’ve been waiting for this email’ – which is surreal!
Ed We knew we wanted to get seriously talented people in, so we didn’t make it easy for ourselves. We probably say no to twice as many people as we are approaching now, it’s a real mix. It takes a certain kind of person to pack their bags, leave their restaurant and go to London for two weeks. That type of chef – they share the idea of what it’s all about. We love working with Michelin-starred chefs and completely undiscovered high-energy cooks, all over the world. We’re celebrating young talent every week.
Chefs coming from far flung places, are they bringing their own ingredients?
Ed: Yes and no. One of our rules is that they have to use seafood from the UK, use our meat suppliers, because we know the quality is there. We always encourage those visiting to cook seasonally and try to introduce them to amazing British ingredients. At the same time, for them to really shine and show what they can do, they will often bring a special ingredient from home, smuggling something over. A chef from Copenhagen recently brought wild, pickled, fermented things to bring his dishes alive – roses, garlic capers, elderflower, seaweed he’d dried himself. We had someone from Mexico bring dried worms over for a salt. They’re always going to come and apply their philosophy to British ingredients.
Ollie: Once they’re cooking with our team, it’s a real collaboration. It’s in everyone’s interest to work that way.
You also run workshops alongside the restaurant?
Ed: Some of the workshops are food based, like pasta making, but we wanted to extend our community beyond chefs to all sorts of creative people doing interesting things. We do a regular workshop with London Terrariums, and Emma, who started it ,is incredibly passionate, so giving her a platform is wonderful. We’ve got food photography workshops with David Loftus, butchering workshops, spoon whittling. There are few places where this sort of programming is happening. Learning and doing. There’s no science to this – it’s whatever we find interesting.
Ollie: Last year we invited Nancy Singleton Hachisu for a residency and workshop. She had just published a book on Japanese cuisine and cooked some dishes from it for us. It was a massive hit. Later in the week we held a miso making workshop, and tried organic congee that she brought from a rice farm 5km from her house. We commissioned beautiful pieces of ceramics to be crafted for it. That was one of the most memorable ones we’ve done.
Any personal standouts of people coming in?
Ollie: Last year, Emme Prieto from Mexico City. No one really knew who he was. We’d become friends two years ago at a gig. Every night he did was sold out, the food was insanely good.
Ed: There’s this lovely lady from Iceland that is one of our oldest customers – she wrote this long email detailing how Emme had made one of the best meals she’d ever had. She said his grilled corn in a broth dish, with aioli, chilli and shitloads of lime and cheese – reduced her to tears. She wasn’t the only one, the feedback was something else. We also had Flynn McGarry from the States – he started doing a supper club out of his mum’s home when he was 11 and seven years later opened his own place. He was pumped to be doing two weeks here – he could drink legally! We have amazing regulars, you build this faith over time, but he brought a whole new crowd. Industry people know who we are and what we’re doing, but there’s so many more we need to reach out to, so they find out who we are.
If you could pick anyone in the world to come down?
Ed: Danny Bowien from Mission Chinese Food is very cool and a great fit for us, definitely someone I’d love to get in. Jiro Ono?
Ollie: We’d cryogenically freeze and ship him over, thaw him out for one final hurrah. There’s just too many, but I’d take David Thompson. Let’s throw Renè Redzepi in there too.