10 minutes with: Daniel Clifford

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th November 2015
Following the Milestone set by chefs such as Tom Kerridge with The Coach, and Jason Atherton’s Social Wine & Tapas, two Michelin star chef patron of Midsummer House, Daniel Clifford, has just opened his own pub, The Flitch of Bacon, in Little Dunmow, Essex. We talk to him about the journey he has taken in the last three months reviving the pub, how he felt about winning the AA Chefs' Chef award and the pressure of having a Michelin star. flitch“Tom Kerridge proved to everyone that it was possible to succeed at a certain level while also being able to stay relaxed," said Daniel, sat in his new pub after its first night of service. "That’s what I have tried to do. We have put kennels in the garden so people can bring their dogs and have a beer in the afternoon. I think that’s the way dining is going, it just needs to be enjoyable now, in an environment where people can bring their kids, aunties and uncles, meaning that the menu has got to be accessible. I just want it to be fun for everyone.” For the last nine years, Daniel, who lives near his new pub, the Flitch of Bacon, wished for somewhere local to eat. He would walk his dogs past the pub every day before the opportunity came to purchase it. With the help of builders, designers, decorators, and his team, Daniel has been able to renovate and open the pub in just three months. He said: “Today the builders left, and I poured them all a beer. It was probably the best day of the last three weeks, to see them smiling and looking at what they had done. They’ve been working 17 hours a day for the last three months without a day off, that shows commitment.daniel quote “I have had 70 builders working here, and 60 have booked in. That tells you something, they are all looking for somewhere to eat! I just want people to come and have a laugh. I like the sound of people laughing, and at Midsummer [House] you don’t get that, cutlery drops on the floor and everybody hears it.” Operating within the pub before Christmas is going to be a struggle for the team. Chef patron, Dan Gill, is heading a small team until more staff can join the kitchen alongside sous chef, Vicky Beechener. “We knew before Christmas it would be a nightmare,"explained Daniel. "But you have to have something for people to look at, you can’t show them a design and say ‘do you want to work here?’. The problem is, one business is not enough now to keep people interested in staying with you long term. Midsummer has got to a point now where it’s busy every service, and the team was getting top heavy. "So it’s at a point where they go and work for someone else, or open up something themselves. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to open the Flitch of Bacon. For the staff who have worked with me before at Midsummer, like Dan, and also some of the up and coming new kids, it gives them a project." Daniel believes that to get the best out of his staff, he has to invest in them. While designing the kitchen, he had the staff in mind, making it as comfortable as possible with all the right equipment to help them to excel. daniel clifford flitchHe said: “Kids don’t want to work in shit holes anymore. This is why I have opened up the kitchen, because then it cuts away all of that stigma of people shouting and bossing people around. Especially me, I’ve got a reputation of being a right nasty bastard! Dan is worse than me, it’s because of the pressure. That’s what Michelin does, it creates a pressure, and it shouldn’t be like that. We should cook because we enjoy doing it! I just want it to be a place where everyone can have a laugh.” Having a light, friendly atmosphere is the most important thing for Daniel at the Flitch of Bacon, and the menu reflects that. “We are going to have a couple of sharing dishes because we think that’s important, it starts with fish and chips and goes all the way up," he explained. "I have five kids, but I don’t get to see them, so this was going to be a project where I can go home and spend an afternoon with the kids. Some restaurants around here won’t even let kids in, it drives me mad.”

>>> Read our chat with Daniel Clifford from 2010!

Opening Flitch and Bacon is not Daniel's only achievement this year, winning the AA Chefs' Chef 2015 was an unexpected moment for him, as for the past six or seven years has been voted to go to the event. “I didn’t expect it, I was told that I had to go, and I didn’t really understand why," he said. "I just thought ‘no, I’m never going to win that’. I had been talking to Clare about ten minutes beforehand, we were saying it was shit that you would have to cook for everyone the next year, if you won. I was pouring myself a glass of water, started taking a mouthful and then everyone stood up around me. Claude Bosi leant over and said ‘get up you fucking muppet, you’ve won!'”daniel quote 2 Daniel aims to push his restaurants further every day, which can be an advantage, but also deter him from seeing himself, his restaurants and his food the way that the people on the outside see them. He said; “I didn’t sleep that whole night. Because I still think I’m a small little chef in Cambridge. I still drive home every night and ask myself if I’m good enough. I still put dishes on the menu and think ‘are they good enough?’ The day I got two stars, I sat there and thought to myself ‘fucking hell, we aren’t two stars’. You never look at yourself, you always look outside at everybody else.” Daniel wasn’t very academic, and throughout his adolescence felt pressured to work hard, due to having an older brother which he ‘felt second best’ to. “When I became a chef it was like I was home," said Daniel. "But thing is you get pushed back so much, you think you’re never good enough for anyone you ever work for. So that stays in your mind, and you get to the point where you open up your own restaurant, and so many people have criticized you through your journey when you’re learning to be a chef, that suddenly you have got this responsibility of being ‘the chef’ and you start doubting yourself. It was only 18 months ago that I sat back and said ‘wow I’m really proud of this’. "Everyone who ends up in a kitchen has come from the same background, they feel like they’ve got something to prove. A chef’s mentality is different to anybody else in the world. You surround yourself with great people.”mich Ultimately, Daniel want’s the Flitch of Bacon to be the first Michelin star in Essex, and  he has big plans for the future. He said: “Firstly, I want it to be busy… of course I want a star! When I knew that we were going to open tonight, I stood outside at half four and I had tears running down my face because I thought ‘fuck we are actually here’." He added: "It’s funny, three months before I bought the Flitch of Bacon, Michelin inspected at Midsummer and I said to the inspector, ‘where do you eat in Essex?’ and he couldn’t answer me! “You either go for it, or you don’t.” By Katie Pathiaki  @canteenkatie

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th November 2015

10 minutes with: Daniel Clifford