For Daniel Clifford, competitions are where the industry finds the legendary chefs of tomorrow

The  Staff Canteen

Daniel Clifford is a busy man. As well as being the chef patron of Cambridge's two Michelin star restaurant, Midsummer House, he is the executive chef at The Flitch of Bacon and a judge on the BBC Series: Great British Menu. 

Since he gave Mark Abott the head chef position at Midsummer House, he told The Staff Canteen, he has a little bit more time to spare to, in his words "get out and look for more young talent that I can hopefully poach and take back" to his restaurant. 

The UK Young Seafood Chef of the Year Competition finals take place today in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, after a series of regional heats over the course of April and May. Organised by the Grimsby Institute, the competition is held in association with Seafish,  the public body funded by DEFRA to support the UK seafood industry.

The nine finalist college teams will have to cook a three-course meal using only sustainable fish. 

The competition is both seen as a means of inspiring young talent and a way of teaching sustainable practices when it comes to sourcing, preparing and eating fish,  which Daniel Clifford considers crucial. 

Future chefs must care about the future 

The chef remembers the time of cod shortages, which he said "just shows that we can't keep taking things out of the water and using and not giving it the chance to grow on and give us future stocks of beautiful products." 

"Fish should be treated like asparagus. It's got a season, it should be respected. We should be eating certain things at certain times of year when it's plentiful, we shouldn't be taking it out when it's too small and it hasn't reproduced itself." 

Chefs not only have a responsibility to serve sustainable fish because they are training the chefs of the future, but because chefs are accountable to their customers, whose expectations have changed."It would be commercial suicide to put things on the menu that aren't sustainable." 

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

Another aspect of competitions  like YSCOTY do, the chef explained, is to build young chefs' confidence in their pursuit of excellence. They also help define who has the dedication and the skill to become great. 

"It's a learning curve. I'm not one of these people that believes that there shouldn't be a first second and third place and everyone should get a pat on the back for competing. I think the more effort you put in, the more reward you get out." 

"This is the Michelin star of the young generation. This will be on their CV for the rest of their lives and it's an accolade to walk into a professional kitchen and say 'I've won the Seafood Chef of the Year' - that's something that would alert the young chef to me if that came through to me I'd be: 'yeah this guy is keen, he loves his business, he loves his trade and he's put a lot of effort into becoming someone very special.'" 

Just like GBM, he believes that the difference between winning and losing the YSCOTY competition can make or break someone's career - not least because chefs around the country will be watching carefully to find the right skill set for their own kitchens.

"The whole reason this competition exists is that it's there to promote the beautiful treasures that we have in our sea. This is a massive stepping stone for these young chefs to put a spotlight on themselves. If they want to progress in their career they just have to have some confidence and show it to me. They could be working on my fish section in the next months." 

"I think every chef in the country is looking for young, malleable staff that can come in with the right attitude. I'm not going there to poach staff but if someone knocks on my door and they have a hidden talent, yes of course I'm going to accept them because they are my future." 

The chef acknowledges that his Cambridge restaurant would not have reached the high level of success it has today if it wasn't for his team - hence the importance of finding the right skills.

 "I'm a good cook myself but I'm not a team of individuals and that's what I try and build on a daily basis." 

"Not everybody can do the meat. Not everybody can do the fish. But everybody that comes into your business has a place. They're all part of the cogs. It's down to a team of individuals that Midsummer House has got two Michelin stars now." 

And ultimately, he explained the differentiating factor between the candidates today will be how passionate they are about being a chef.

"That's all I'm looking for - someone who absolutely loves what they do. I don't want to feel sorry for someone, I want to feel proud of someone that I can see loves their job. Because after thirty-five years, I still absolutely adore my job.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 14th June 2019

For Daniel Clifford, competitions are where the industry finds the legendary chefs of tomorrow