How guest chef residencies took hold of London

The ever-increasing number of guest chef residencies suggests they have evolved from fad to fixture in the UK's restaurant scene. Tomé Morrissy-Swan speaks to the adventurous chefs looking for autonomy, experience and the opportunity to wow diners with their creativity

Words by Tomé Morrissy-Swan

Elliot Hashtroudi
Elliot Hashtroudi, head chef at Camille in London, previously had a six-month residency at 107 Wine Shop & Bar (Photo: Harriet Langford)

Tuesday night and the dining room in Fitzrovia is humming with chatter and music. Chefs quietly churn out a seven-course menu from a small induction hob, with inventive dishes – aubergine with miso cream and tare cashew; monkfish with bouillabaisse sauce – taking inspiration from France to Japan. The natural wines, from a fresh Slovenian orange by Atelier Kramar to a juicy poulsard from Oenosapiens, are stellar. It’s a typical London restaurant scene, except one thing: next week, the chef, Cenk Debensason of Michelin-starred Arkestra in Istanbul, won’t be here.

Carousel deals only in residencies. A decade ago, Ed Templeton, along with his brother Ollie, who had been a chef at Moro, and two cousins, were looking for something new. Inspired by the trend for immersive experiences like Secret Cinema, they ‘looked at that through the lens of food,’ says Ed. ‘The idea was to transport people to other places.’ They ran pop-ups in old warehouses, closed restaurants and galleries but ‘loading a van after every event was exhausting. We wanted a permanent space.’

Ollie and Ed Templeton
Ollie and Ed Templeton, the brothers behind Carousel

That became Carousel, initially in Marylebone, now in Fitzrovia. From the start, the idea was to bring in chefs, whether emerging or established, from all over the world. Carousel would cover expenses, produce, wine and provide staff; chefs would gain exposure. ‘We liked the idea of being in a Sicilian town square for a night or a Mozambique beach shack.’ A decade on, more than 300 chefs have cooked at Carousel.

It wasn’t the first place of its type. Nuno Mendes had success with his legendary Loft Project, bringing chefs like Magnus Nilsson and Mauro Colagreco to London. The same year that Carousel opened, in 2014, Lyle’s Guest Series emerged and P Franco opened in Clapton, east London, also focusing on continually changing chefs.

Chef residencies provide an opportunity to travel, learn and cook with new people

But residencies have exploded recently, be it two-Michelin-starred Parisian sushi spot L’Abysse at Pavyllon in Mayfair or Bangkok’s Samrub Samrub Thai at Chinatown’s Speedboat Bar. The Sea, The Sea in Hackney recently announced it is turning entirely to residencies. Outside London, Oxmoor Farm in the Chiltern Hills is once more hosting Wild Feasts, where chefs including Sophie Wyburd and Michelle Trusselle will cook for one weekend each throughout the year. Residencies can last one night, a week or months and be labelled supper clubs, guest series or collaborations but their goal is the same: to bring in an exciting chef from elsewhere for a limited time.

Tom Hamblet
Tom Hamblet, who believes the experience from residencies will give him the skills required to run his own restaurant in the future

The appeal of guest chef residencies

For the emerging chef, residencies are increasingly appealing, providing an opportunity to travel, learn and cook with new people. Above all, they are seen as a stepping stone to greater things. Since winning MasterChef: The Professionals in 2023, Tom Hamblet has turned to residencies, first at Camelia at South Lodge, West Sussex, for three months and now at The Avenue at Lainston House, Winchester, until 30 June.

‘It’s been a really big learning curve, managing a team and keeping the consistency,’ says Hamblet. ‘That’s what being a head chef is all about. It has definitely been more full-on than I expected. Keeping up with the volume, service after service, is a big challenge.’ The residencies have opened doors, showcased Hamblet’s cooking and put his name on the map. ‘One day, I would love my own place and this is definitely giving me the skills to head in that direction. It’s really opened my eyes into what goes into running a kitchen and restaurant.’

Tom Hamblet food
One of Hamblet's dishes from his residency at the South Lodge hotel in West Sussex

For Elliot Hashtroudi, a residency provided a chance to fully express himself. After working in fine-dining kitchens, as well as Padella and Trullo, Hashtroudi joined St. John, where he rose from chef de partie to sous chef. After, he trialled at several restaurants, including Kitchen Table and Mangal II. ‘They were all great, I got offered a job at all of them,’ Hashtroudi recalls. But he wanted something he could make his own. A residency came in handy.

Hashtroudi ended up with a six-month stint at 107 Wine Shop & Bar (formerly P Franco) for the second half of 2023, where he had control over the menu and honed his French-inspired nose-to-tail cookery. Dishes like skate schnitzel and devilled prawns on toast with prawn-head mayonnaise were hits.

With costs of everything from raw ingredients to energy and staff constantly rising, it’s increasingly difficult to open a new restaurant

‘I set out to make it a neighbourhood restaurant. I made the menu twice as long as anyone had before,’ explains Hashtroudi, encouraging guests to come for a full dinner and return regularly, rather than just pop in for a glass of wine and a snack. As opposed to a weekend pop-up, the six-month residency allowed Hashtroudi to put his stamp on the place, develop the menu and build a reputation.

Angelica Golten
Residencies are 'becoming more accepted and even fashionable', says chef Angelica Golten (Photo: Luisa Bravo)

After Angelica Golten left her job as a chef at 40 Maltby Street, she cooked at pop-ups in Lisbon and Berlin. In March, she worked alongside Helen Graham, formerly of vegetarian Middle Eastern restaurant Bubala, at a residency at Oranj in Shoreditch, another wine bar with a constantly revolving chef.

‘It goes hand-in-hand with being a chef, [and is] becoming more accepted and even fashionable,’ says Golten, soon to be sous chef at July, an Alsace-inspired restaurant and wine bar in Fitzrovia. ‘It’s a chance to travel with work and build connections and communities. These things are so important for happiness and traditionally not associated with being stuck in a kitchen. Cooking is hard; doing the same thing day in day out is hard. Residencies are exciting, allowing for expanded creativity in new environments.’

Chef residencies are seen as a stepping stone to greater things

They also lower the barriers to entry. With costs of everything from raw ingredients to energy and staff constantly rising, it’s increasingly difficult to open a new restaurant. ‘We’ve already done the expensive bit in creating and kitting out the venue,’ says Alex Hunter, founder of The Sea, The Sea. ‘All participating brands have to do is sell tickets and cook. We’ve even got supplier accounts set up for them to use.’

Cenk Debensason
Chef residencies have helped Cenk Debensason understand food scenes outside of Turkey

Cooking up future opportunities

Carousel was Debensason’s second residency, after a four-day stint at Villa Magnan in Biarritz last year. As head chef of a Michelin-star restaurant, most of his time is spent doing paperwork, so being back in a kitchen was exciting. There are challenges – the induction hob meant he couldn’t cook with fire as he’s used to – but the British produce, particularly the seafood, impressed him. The only ingredient he brought from Turkey was aged pomegranate molasses. ‘It’s good to get to know the culinary scene here. We have some plans in three, four years to maybe open a restaurant here, so it’s helpful to know some cooks and show my food around.’

Slip sole
Slip sole, smoked eel cream and trout roe, one of the dishes at Camille in London's Borough Market

Huge names in the London food scene like Santiago Lastra of Kol, Jeremy Chan of Ikoyi and the chefs behind Fallow all cooked at Carousel before opening their restaurants. For Hashtroudi, the stint at 107 was invaluable. He had residencies lined up in Cyprus and Brooklyn but was approached by Clare Lattin and Tom Hill, owners of a successful group of restaurants including Ducksoup in Soho and Emilia in Ashburton, Devon. They were after a head chef at Camille, a new French spot in Borough Market. ‘It seemed an offer too good to refuse,’ says Hashtroudi. ‘They were like, “this is your baby, go for it.” I couldn’t say no to such an amazing offer. It was like having a permanent residency.’