Q&A: Ollie Templeton

The co-owner of Carousel on the pleasures and challenges of working with an ever-changing cast of resident chefs

Interview: Clare Finney
Portraits: Joseph Fox

How did Carousel’s innovative concept of chef residencies come about?
We fell in love with this site when we were running immersive events and pop-ups as part of Shuttlecock, our first company. We were originally looking for somewhere that would serve as a headquarters and test kitchen, then we found this place which is about 10 times bigger than what we were looking for and licensed, so we had to run a restaurant.

I was 22 at the time and while I’d trained at Leiths School of Food and Wine, I’d only ever worked at Moro. I certainly wasn’t ready to open my own restaurant. I wanted to travel, stage in different restaurants around the world, learn more. I think the concept of residencies was borne out of that, really—instead of me travelling and working with different chefs, we thought, why don’t we flip it? That way I’m doing a stage every two weeks and I’m doing more than pick herbs all day. Then, after just over a year of chef residencies, we launched our lunches with the menu of sharing plates we’d developed ourselves.

Pre-paying for dinner was a bit of a new concept when you first launched, but it seems to have taken off since. Why?
I know, even Clove Club have started doing it now! After us, I might add. I think it’s just so annoying as a restaurant when you take a booking—for any group, but particularly a large group—and they don’t call and they don’t show up. You’ve already bought the food by that point. It’s wasteful. Pre-paying, having a controlled number of people and set menu all helps ensure you don’t buy food you don’t use.

Omar Romero, Carl Ishizaki, Bjorn van der Horst, Olia Hercules: you’ve invited some pretty big, even Michelin-starred chefs to cook at Carousel since launching—are you ever intimidated?
We have had people who come with egos attached, but you just have to say, alright, it may be what you do at home, but this is a different sort of place. It’s a lot easier now that we’re more recognised and established. It’s our team, it is our place and it is a mutual thing: we need them because this is what we have chosen to do, but they want to be there also. If they have harder personalities, you just have to be up-front and address it. 

How do you find new chefs?
Literally every way possible. We’re all big foodies here who love travelling, so whenever we go on holiday we eat at different places and share that. I don’t really eat out in London; I save up for going away and eating out then. Partly it is research online, as it is not realistic to travel to every place—we read menus and proper newspaper and magazine reviews—and of course, we also ask the chefs who come here. We let them settle in, then after a few days sit them down and say, so, who are your friends? And they open us up to a whole new network.

If your chefs come from all over the world, how do you ensure you have the right ingredients?
We have a lot of suppliers, but we are always finding new ones through chefs who come here. Roy Brett from Ondine introduced us to some amazing seafood producers, for example, from Scotland. Sometimes chefs bring their own if it’s particularly rare or unique.

There are rules involved in coming here, though, and one of those is the food budget, which is the same for every chef regardless of what they are cooking and determines what they can and can’t put on the menu. It is all very well to say “I want to do lemon sole and truffle foie gras and fillet steak”, but unless you’re going to pay for that yourself, we might struggle. To be honest, though, we never have a problem with setting a food budget—everyone enjoys it and sees it as a challenge, and if they want to include expensive dishes as optional extras for a surcharge, they can.

You must have learnt so much from working with so many different chefs. Can you give an example?
It is not so much learning as observing really small things—a particular technique or a concept. For example, Henrik Norén from Gro in Stockholm cooked rye like you would a porridge, for ages and ages, then added cornflour, spread it thinly, dehydrated it and fried it so it puffed up. Leandro Carreira did it by cooking clams in coriander and garlic and draining them, then using that juice and something called kozu, a Japanese ingredient I’d never heard of before, to make a sort of clam cracker. That’s a move you can apply to lots of things. We’ve learnt it’s one of many different ways of preserving gluts of the season, which allows us to introduce a seasonal product later in the year. Then there’s Japanese cuisine, which we knew nothing about—all their sauces and techniques are really interesting.

How did you initially get into cooking?
I grew up in the south of Spain. We had a garden and we grew lots of vegetables. I got bought a Jamie Oliver book, Jamie at Home, and at the back of it he had all the places he bought all of his seeds. I bought them all: 10 varieties of tomato, four varieties of aubergine, different types of basil, and it shot up. When it came to harvesting we were bringing in huge baskets of stuff, cooking with it and inviting friends over. We had a pine tree, and me and Marcona—who works here now, with the big beard—made our own pesto one day, cracking the pine nuts, picking the basil, even making our own pasta. It was such a fun day. We did stuff like that all the time. It kept us off the streets—not that there were many streets. So when I was 16 I thought, maybe this is what I want. I had the Moro cookbooks, all of them, and thought, I want to work there. 

‘Worked at Moro’ has become something of a byline for ‘very promising chef’—why do you think that is?
I think Moro, River Café, St John, Petersham Nurseries are institutions when it comes to London food. They are also very good at taking on inexperienced chefs. Especially Moro: they really nurture you. When I was there, Sam or Sam Clark was there every day and they always took time to show and teach us things. There was so much to learn: the menu was really varied, they always tried new things, and we made everything from scratch. Even the bread—I spent six months just in the bakery. That attitude rubs off and has done on everyone I know who has worked at Moro. 

Is there still some Moro in your cooking?
I think with time my style has changed. I don’t know what it is now. We’ll never be the sort of place that serves world cuisine—one that serves sushi, bruschetta and soups on the same menu—but we have learnt different techniques. In terms of flavours, I’d say our lunch menu is quite bold, usually smoke or spice-led. We use a lot of vegetables too, now—out of eight dishes I’d say there are always at least four vegetarian. It’s a challenge for us to do interesting, unique things with vegetables, and it makes us an inexpensive lunch spot. We still do great stuff with meat and fish, and we source these very well, but we’re most proud of the veggie ones for sure.

Do you ever wish you’d followed a more conventional path?
No, not at all. I love working with my family, I love the diversity and I really enjoy the events side with Shuttlecock. I love how we have grown organically, from scratch, and now we can showcase our skills with our own menu. We’re a good team.

You’re a very young, trendy team who’d not be out of place in Shoreditch. Why Marylebone?
We love it here. Our regulars are so, so loyal: we have locals who come to every chef and we know them all by name—what they like, where they sit. We have people come from all over town, as a result of the chefs we choose. Geoffrey Lee, the sushi chef, brought loads of Japanese couples. Our Paris pop-up brought lots of French guests. We’ve the local farmers’ market round the corner, where there are a number of suppliers we work with. Marylebone’s community is very supportive. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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