How I Made It

How this chef went from homeschool to cooking for Oscar winner Olivia Colman

Leon Rothera

It might seem unusual that a chef didn't step foot in a restaurant until he was 15 years old but this didn't stop Leon Rothera from going to work in a Michelin-star kitchen and cooking for the stars.

Rothera had what he calls "a bit of an alternative upbringing," spending his early years being homeschooled at his family's cottage in Northumberland, in the northeast of England.

He describes his father as a "hippy rebellious type," who'd had a strict upbringing and so decided to raise his family in a little house in a rural setting with no electricity, and to "live off the land."

Rothera compares the experience to the popular 1970s British TV show "The Good Life," a series which depicted a couple leaving behind the rat race of London to live self-sufficiently in the suburbs.

He tells CNBC this is where his "connection with food" originated, seeing his parents make homemade bread and growing their own vegetables.

At age 16, Rothera enrolled at sixth-form college, the British equivalent of a senior high school, to study cooking. Shortly afterwards he moved down to London to work at The Lanesborough — at one time said to be the world's most expensive hotel.

From there, he went to Michelin-star restaurant No.1 Lombard Street, becoming chef de partie, effectively fourth-in-command, at just 19 years old.

But Rothera says he was always dreaming up his own ventures and so at 21 years old, he set up a dinner party catering business, serving up meals for big names like "Love Actually" actor Bill Nighy.

Honest Foods

By age 24, having secured his first financial backer, the chef opened the Honest Foods deli and then cafe in Brixton, in South London.

However, Rothera admits it was challenging to run a cafe with a focus on high quality, freshly-made food in an area of London that in 2005 hadn't yet become the bustling foodie hotspot it is today.

He then got a call to cater for a commercial shoot for a major consumer goods brand and Rothera says things "snowballed" from there, adding that catering on sets was "easy money" in comparison to running a cafe.

Turning his focus to the more lucrative world of catering, Rothera decided to rent out the cafe space and buy an "old burger van" for around £5,000 ($6,507), which he refitted, taking Honest Foods on the road to television and movie sets.

"I'd gone from somedays there only being £100 in the till to doing ten times that, at least, in a day and it being guaranteed, pre-booked six weeks in advance," he says, explaining that this marked a "huge shift" in his career.

He has since worked on the sets of British television shows like "Fleabag," "The Crown" and "Broadchurch," having been personally requested by Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman, as well as catering for the upcoming James Bond film "No Time to Die."

The importance of delegation

From those early days running a cafe, Rothera says he's learned the importance of delegation.

"Give yourself the space to flourish in the areas that you're brilliant at and to really outsource," he says, warning that the temptation to run all parts of the business yourself can lead to "exhaustion."

Rothera says renting out his cafe in Brixton, now used by British MasterChef winner Tim Anderson for his ramen bar Nanban, was his "first big decision in business" and was one that he struggled with.

However, the chef says he no longer has the same fear, explaining that "it was a big business move … and it paid dividends."

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