Collaborations are becoming more of a trope in the modern restaurant industry. It certainly makes sense – with so much emphasis on sharing ideas, as well as coming together to create new ones, it makes you wonder why more restaurateurs and chefs aren’t teaming up. It’s this very idea which is at the centre of the operation at Marylebone’s Carousel, a dining space that puts chefs from around the world, and their food, in front of a London audience.
With a view to exploring the benefits of working with others in the industry, we exchanged a few words with Carousel director Ed Templeton on the importance of creativity, which cuisine pulls in the punters, and the global allure of cooking in London.
So, Ed, why are collaborations generally a good idea?
Collaborations keep things fresh for everyone. They provide a platform for creative, open-minded people to experiment with new ingredients, flavours and techniques. Carousel is like a never-ending stage, without the boring bits.
Our team are learning all the time, which is obviously very rewarding. But it works both ways; we encourage our guests to adapt their recipes to what’s local and in season, so you might have a sushi chef from San Francisco working with Cornish mackerel for the first time, or a Mexican chef using traditional nixtamalisation techniques to make buckwheat tostadas. It’s rarely a case of lifting signature dishes from our guests’ menus back home – it’s about exchanging ideas and working together to create something that may only ever exist for a single week. That’s the beauty of it.
Why do you think no one had tried something like Carousel – at least not successfully – before?
There are a lot of moving parts. We often joke about how we basically open a new restaurant every couple of weeks. We go out for beers on Saturday night to celebrate the end of one residency and then we start all over again at 9am the following Monday with a brand new chef.
I can see why that might put people off but I think the difference between Carousel and other places attempting a similar thing to us is that we have a permanent team here who are enormously talented in their own right, and 100% committed to making every single service a success – they thrive on the newness of it all. We’ve also developed some pretty failsafe processes over the past couple of years that massively reduce our margin for error. Our guests adapt to our set-up, rather than the other way round. Having said all that, it’s still fairly relentless.
Other than the obvious, are there any special ventures or opportunities available to you as a result of the relationships you’ve made?
We’ve been open for two and a half years now, during which time we’ve hosted nearly seventy individual residencies from chefs from as far away as Tokyo, Portland and Patagonia. People sometimes struggle to get their heads around the concept – the fact that chefs come and go, but we’re here doing the same thing week in week out. But those who do get it seem to really like the idea.
We’ve been approached a number of times by potential partners interested in opening Carousels overseas, but for the time being we’re focussing on a couple of very exciting opportunities closer to home which will involve taking the concept on the road. We can’t say anything more than that just yet but watch this space.
What should someone in the restaurant business do before approaching someone with a view to working together?
I think first and foremost they need to ask themselves what they want to get out of the partnership. Are they doing it for profit, exposure or something else? We’ve been lucky enough to discover a community of like-minded people who get what we’re doing and who are up for getting involved, more often than not just for the hell of it.
Sure, it doesn’t do any harm to their profile to come and cook in one of the world’s genuine food capitals – and we do cover the costs of getting them here – but I think the reason we manage to attract such a variety of talented people is because they can see we’re doing it for the love of food. They share our sense of adventure and our passion for feeding people. That’s our motivation and it works for us. There are undoubtedly plenty of other ways for a collaboration to be successful but the key thing is to be clear about the “what’s in it for me?” from the start.
What do you find is the winning formula for a chef or event receiving the most attention? Particularly if they’re not well known?
That’s a tough one. We’re obviously excited about everyone who comes to cook with us, otherwise we wouldn’t invite them over in the first place, but as a general rule established names like Niklas Ekstedt will always be a big hit; Michelin stars are a fairly convincing shorthand for excellence.
Having said that, some of our all time bestsellers have been relative unknowns over here. If I were to put my finger on a definite pattern, Japanese cooking in all its many forms is always a sure-fire winner, but ultimately it comes down to the menus. I think we’re established enough now for people to trust us to collaborate with brilliant chefs so more often than not the clincher is what they’re cooking. If everything on the menu sounds ridiculously good and there’s no way of someone trying it without visiting Carousel within a short five-day window – or by flying to the other side of the world to eat at that particular chef’s restaurant – then it’s likely to get the attention it deserves.
Photos courtesy of Carousel