Mica Soellner is a freelance multimedia journalist who has worked at US and UK publications. She has been published by the Independent, i News, Novara Media, spiked-online and has been featured on BBC radio. Mica is completing her Bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She is currently based in Washington D.C. interning at Politifact National. She has language skills in Japanese and German and is interested in labor relations, politics and foreign policy.
5 minutes with chef Jerome Henry
1. How did you go from working in finance to becoming a chef?
I went to business school in Switzerland. I ended up working in finance until I was 23. Deep down I knew that it wasn’t for me. My age held me back from entering a professional kitchen in Switzerland or France. So I decided to travel to the US. I was really interested in the food scene emerging in Chicago. I spent some time studying English there. The opportunity arose to work in a kitchen and I have never looked back.
2. Was there a certain moment you discovered your love of culinary arts?
I’ve loved it all since I was a child – it’s always been a part of my life. My parents often left me to cook for myself. I taught myself to read cookery books from about the age of 12. I was just interested in learning and tasting. Also, my grandfather was a cheesemaker so there was always a love of food in our family.
3. What was the most difficult aspect of training to become a chef?
For me it was the transition of going from a good salary in the financial sector to a lower wage. The hours I could handle, but I definitely had a shock at the pay!
4. Why do you think Edinburgh was a good location to open up a restaurant?
Although it’s a capital city and attracts many visitors throughout the year, it has a lot of food-loving residents which ensures steady business even in the quieter months.
5. You’ve worked to promote Scottish produce all over the world. But which cuisine has influenced you most?
I loved visiting China and the diversity of its cuisine.
6. You’ve also worked in London throughout your career. Why didn’t you open up a restaurant there?
The rent for a city centre restaurant is prohibitive, it is just so expensive. This also impacts on the staff you can hire – few good restaurant workers and chefs can afford to live in central London.
7. After working for a few years in Chicago, how would you compare the restaurant industry in the US to the UK?
The way you pay your staff is very different. There you can afford to have bigger teams in your restaurant as wage costs are supplemented by tips, whereas in the UK we have much higher staffing costs – your team is going to be much smaller.
8. What’s a good way to make a new restaurant stand out?
By offering quality and consistency and for the chef patron to show that he or she is hands-on in the kitchen and the running of the restaurant. It is also important to consider your locale and make sure you are offering something that will appeal in the neighbourhood in which you are operating. And make sure that you have a happy team and happy customers
9. Where did Le Roi Fou’s name come from?
Its name roughly translates as “the mad king”. We were inspired by the play Ubu Roi (or “King Ubu”) by late-19th century French writer Alfred Jarry. The character Ubu Roi thinks with his stomach and is always identified by the spiral on his belly. Le Roi Fou is our gastronomic version of the character because he too always thinks with his stomach!
10. Do you think using local ingredients is an important aspect in cooking culture?
Absolutely – food tastes better when it hasn’t been freighted across the world! It is easier to eat seasonally when you eat locally produced food too.
11. Le Roi Fou is described as a “neighbourhood restaurant.” What does that actually mean?
Our aim was to open a restaurant that was welcomed in the neighbourhood and that local people wanted to dine in, whether it is to stop by after work for a quick meal and glass of wine or for a celebratory occasion.
12. Does the aesthetics of the interior and exterior design of a restaurant matter to you?
Of course, it is important to create the right atmosphere for an enjoyable dining experience. Pleasant surroundings that reflect the quality of the food is key for me.
13. Do you consider cooking and creating culinary dishes a form of art too?
Yes, I do. There is definitely an art to combining ingredients to come up with great flavours and dressing a plate is certainly an art form in itself.
14. Are you using anything that’s revolutionary in your kitchen?
I would say we are a more traditional kitchen, I am relishing a more back-to-basics style of cooking using a plancha grill, for example.
15. Le Roi Fou was awarded New Restaurant of the Year 2017. How important are awards?
Awards are a great way to let people know about your restaurant and it is very satisfying to be recognised for the work that you do.
16. What is an ingredient you always keep on hand with you as a chef?
Definitely olive oil – I prefer it to butter as it is lighter and healthier.
17. What’s your favourite dish to eat on Le Roi Fou’s menu?
It has to be scallops. I have worked with my scallop supplier Keltic Seafare for many years now and they always deliver the best. We have a dish on at the moment with scallops, confit Isle of Wight tomatoes and lemon which is my favourite.
18. How do you create vegetarian options?
Quite often when I am creating a dish I will start with the vegetables, so we can always cater well for vegetarian and vegan diners. One dish that is popular at the moment is globe artichoke, duck egg and Scottish girolle.
19. Do you have any plans to open up a second restaurant? If so, where?
Not at the moment, we have only been open for five months so I am enjoying running this for now.
20. What advice can you give to aspiring chefs?
Work hard, learn from your [head] chef, be patient and be prepared to climb the ladder slowly.
Originally published by the Independent on October 6, 2017