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Going it alone

Mark Sargeant has opened his first restaurant, Rocksalt, in Folkestone. Picture: John Carey.
Mark Sargeant has opened his first restaurant, Rocksalt, in Folkestone. Picture: John Carey.

He was the closest man to Gordon Ramsay for 12 years and now Kent chef Mark Sargeant is opening his first restaurant in Folkestone. Chris Price found out why.

Popping out of the kitchen at Rocksalt for a few minutes to chat, celebrity chef Mark Sargeant sounds a bit rushed.

The restaurant on Folkestone harbour is the first ever to be launched by Gordon Ramsay’s former right-hand-man and sits just a stone’s throw away from his first fish and chip shop The Smokehouse.

Overlooking the day-boat fishermen as they moor on the harbour, it is a perfectly tranquil setting – even if it is organised chaos inside.

“It’s all been a bit mental,” said Mark, 37. “We had a few soft openings with friends and family before we opened to get the team and the kitchen working.

“Very few of them have worked together before so we were using my folks as guinea pigs to get us started.”

Mark was born in Pembury and grew up in Larkfield, attending Oakwood Park Grammar School in Maidstone and Tonbridge College.

He plied his trade at Michelin-starred Reads Restaurant in Faversham under head chef David Pitchford before making the move to London to eventually become Gordon Ramsay’s head chef at Claridge’s. He worked with Gordon for 12 years and appeared on his shows Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Hell’s Kitchen and The F Word.

So as someone who has made it in the Big Smoke and became a celebrity chef, why did he choose to open his first restaurant in Folkestone?

“Good question,” he said with a boyish laugh. “Folkestone chose me really.”

He is referring to his meeting with Josh De Haan, the eldest son of Folkestone philanthropist and former Saga-owner Roger De Haan.

Josh sought out Mark after he became chef director of The Swan in West Malling, his first major role after leaving Gordon Ramsay.

Mark admitted he was “champing at the bit” to do something under his own steam and Josh’s persuasiveness meant it was not long before he was warming to the idea of opening his first ever restaurant in his home county.

“He wanted a Kent-born operator to come on board,” said Mark. “We hit it off straight away.

“I wasn’t keen on Folkestone at the start. My memories of the town as a child weren’t great. I guess I had this London snobbery about me but when Josh showed me his masterplan for the harbour area I fell in love with the idea.

“Only this week I have been reading things in the Evening Standard and the Sunday Times magazine about how Folkestone is so up-and-coming.

“The De Haans are people with a serious vision for Folkestone and I want to be a part of that vision. I trust them. People will all be falling in love with this area in five years’ time.”

The only time the easy-going Mark ever frowns is at the suggestion Rocksalt is specialising in seafood – a misconception that he is keen to dispel.

The restaurant serves all types of food but is lucky to have access to the harbour on its doorstep.

Mark said: “The fish will be the best you have ever had in your life because we are right by the sea.

“Catch of the day will literally be that. Fisherman will just phone us from their boats telling us what they have caught and then just bring it into the restaurant.

“When you work in London you don’t have access to that sort of produce.

“Here we are also surrounded by Kentish countryside and farmland which we will get our pork and chickens from.

“We are trying to grow our own herbs and salads, too. We hope to be fairly self sufficient.”

Factfile

»Mark came up with the name Rocksalt on a flight home from a factfinding trip to Barcelona. The Smokehouse fish and chip shop retains its original name as the building dates back more than 150 years.

»The only major non-Kentish ingredients will be steaks sourced from Sussex and smoked fish will come from a friend of Mark’s in Hastings, who has been in the smoking business for 25 years.

»None of Mark’s family still live in the West Malling area. His mum moved to Spain and his dad moved to Swale but he still has friends in Sittingbourne.

»Mark is living in Sandgate while he gets the restaurant off the ground but may move to Folkestone.

»Rocksalt will host a launch party for the Folkestone Triennial on Friday, June 24, and Mark is an art fan. “I used to draw loads. I am into art but I don’t know art well. “

To make a reservation at Rocksalt call 01303 884633 or visitwww.rocksaltfolkestone.co.uk.

Details on The Smokehouse fish and chip shop atwww.thesmokehousefolkestone.co.uk.

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