Five minutes with: Oliver Marlow

The executive chef of Aulis UK and Hong Kong on creating finish-at-home deliveries, his love of chocolate and where he’ll eat when restaurants reopen

Food and Drink 23 Mar 2021

Can you tell us a bit about the Aulis London at-home deliveries?
Aulis London is one of Simon Rogan’s restaurants. In the group we’re doing Simon Rogan at Home, which delivers nationwide, and Aulis which delivers to London addresses. The aim is to bring people a taste of the restaurant, which is all about natural British ingredients. We want to let guests ordering it play chef a little bit so some of the dishes will be step-by-step how to recreate restaurant-style dishes. They’re not too complicated but the idea is to get the flavour of the restaurant at home.

How challenging has it been to transfer the restaurant spirit of the food into a finish-at-home box?
At first it was an absolute nightmare. You spend your whole life, 15 years, learning how to run a restaurant – I’ve never done take-away in my life! And all of a sudden, you’ve got three days to change the whole business model from a classic sit-down restaurant to takeaway. It’s everything from ordering the containers, to menus, to delivering, and even little things. In a restaurant if someone orders an orange juice and you forget, it’s no drama, you’re at the table two seconds later but if you send out a delivery and you’ve forgotten to put one of the components in, it’s a much bigger problem. There are a lot of logistics, that’s probably the biggest thing – making sure everything goes to the right place at the right time on the right day, and making sure someone’s home. One of the hardest parts is also to get myself and the whole team to be open to change, and to see the bigger picture. We might not have got into this job to do take-away, but it’s something we can all appreciate keeps us in a job and, most importantly, it keeps the name out there.

The thought that has been put into making things easy to prepare for non-chefs is impressive.
That is what we’ve been doing now for months and, obviously, in the previous lockdown, and in Hong Kong. You improve every week when you change the menu and realise different things. We found out that braised meats are really good, for example, because whether it’s a lamb shank or short rib of beef we’ve already done the hard part. All you have to do is heat it up, and you can heat it up as much as you want, you can’t really destroy it. Whereas if I give you a chicken, everyone cooks chicken differently and you can overcook or undercook it easily. We also learned that micro herbs don’t travel well, so don’t even try and go there. Each week it gets better and better, to the point that we sometimes think we should continue it because it’s quite fun and easy sometimes.

What do you think you’ve learned in the past year that you’ll take with you into the future?
I think being patient and honest. How you treat staff as well has been a massive thing for us and many businesses. I think at Aulis we have been so lucky because we as a group have fought to do take-away and that’s enabled us to keep all the staff on. It would be really easy to say, “screw this, were not going to do anything, everyone is on furlough, or everyone is being made redundant”. Instead, we fought to keep it going, keep everyone in their job and keep people happy and it worked out well. Letting people know where they stand and communicating what’s happening to the restaurant has been so important, as well as asking if anyone needs help. Being nice, really.

When restaurants reopen, where’s the first place you want to go out and eat?
The first place will definitely be Kiln, I love their style of food, it’s incredible. They do a clay hot pot I absolutely love, but all the dishes are amazing so whenever I go there I always go in a group of four, and we will order everything. In Hong Kong there’s a Chinese restaurant called The Chairman. The food is absolutely amazing but it’s a relaxed place. Just plates and plates of incredible food stacked up on the table.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
To surround yourself with talented people. The restaurants where I’ve learned the most, are where you’re surrounded by people that care, that are passionate and talented, and who have the same drive and goals. I think if you’re a head chef or someone like Simon Rogan you surround yourself with many different amazing restaurant managers, chefs and operations managers who make life easier and who you can bounce ideas off. You might not be in the best restaurant in the world, you might be in an average pub, but if you’re surrounded by people that care and with the same drive and passion, it is only going to make you a better person.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you?
I’ve don’t know if I can have one role model, I’ve worked for so many amazing people. And I think that’s key because you can take bits from different people. Someone like Heston Blumenthal who I worked with at The Fat Duck is just ridiculously crazy. You almost don’t take no for an answer – everything can be accomplished. And someone like Simon Rogan is an incredible boss: he is so kind, and very genuine. But if I had to pick one, I would probably say my first head chef, Luke Matthews. He is at the Chewton Glen Hotel & Spa in Hampshire, where I did my apprenticeship for five years. He took me from a 15-year-old child, and spent the time and effort to train me up. It takes a lot to do that, to have the patience to deal with me as a 15 year old.

What ingredient can you not live without?
Definitely chocolate, I have a ridiculously sweet tooth. I cannot leave a bar unfinished, no matter what size, it is my biggest weakness.

What are your biggest passions outside food and drink?
I don’t have time to do much outside of work but travelling is a passion that comes hand in hand with my job. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot to different countries and I don’t understand why more people don’t do it in the industry. It is a real perk to go and work abroad and get a job – obviously not now, but prior to the pandemic. I love going to new places and meeting new people, just getting lost in new cities.

If you could choose anyone from today or history from any time, who would be your ideal dinner party guest?
Paul Gascoigne. I’d probably cook him a pie and chips, that’s what he’d want, wouldn’t he? He’s more my choice for the company, not the fine dining.

 Aulis London is set to reopen on 17 May according to government guidelines. Order Simon Rogan at Home menus from simonroganathome.co.uk