'I got trained by psychos, so suddenly I became a psycho myself': Daniel Clifford on the old-fashioned ways that made him

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th October 2019

It's indisputable that management practices in kitchens had to change; gone are the days of branding staff with hot pallette knives and working 36-hour shifts. But Midsummer House chef owner Daniel Clifford believes that if it hadn't been for the tough treatment he got when he was training, he would not have become the chef he is today. 

“I’d be a bin man, that’d be it. That’s what my dad promised me that I was going to be,” he said, joining chef Paul Foster for the second season of The Nightcap podcast. 

Speaking about his cookbook, 'Out of my Tree,' and how cathartic it was to write, the chef described the hard times that have shaped him.

"All my life since the age of eleven I was told that I wasn’t good enough and then when I went into kitchens it was always a knock back." 

But, he said, it was this knock back that made him. 

“At the end of the day, would I be the chef that I am today without the mentors that trained me? I got trained by psychos, so suddenly I became a psycho myself and that’s the difficulty.”

The chef said he's not only had a lot to overcome at Midsummer House, which since he bought it in 1998 has flooded, been burgled and overrun with animal rights activists over his use of foie gras, but most formative in his career were the earlier days. Back then, things were very different, and by his account, "it was horrible."

However, he added: “That adrenaline, you can't get it from anywhere else apart from being in the shit on a sixty cover service with a chef shouting at you. That feeling of ‘I just want to get through this because he’s going psycho, actually I’ll turn that guy’s oven off so he gets a bollocking and I don’t.”

“Now, you can’t get away with that shit anymore.”

Asked if he regretted those days, he said:“That’s what made great cooks isn’t it.”

The chef told of an other incident, back when he worked at The Box Tree in Ilkley, in Marco Pierre White's heyday.  

 “I remember I picked up a cook’s knife, and I was just about to carve a terrine and Marco turned around and said: ‘Daniel, Daniel, turn that aubergine over - we used to confit aubergines to make a tian. I turned around and it hit the fridge and the knife went all the way around my hand.”

“Being daft as I was back then – I was about nineteen – I turned it, I got a cloth and I wrapped it around my hand and kept on working. It was about quarter past twelve at this point, and at half two the cloth was red, my hand was knackered and I went to Marco and I said: ‘Marco, I think I need to go to the hospital, my finger is sort of hanging off’ and he said ‘fine, you can go to the hospital but if you’re not back for tonight you’ll be sacked.”

“And that’s what it was like.”

Acknowledging the extremity of the incident, he added: “He was the book. Marco was the man and if you wanted to go anywhere in this industry, you just said: ‘yes Marco.’”

“It was my dedication to the industry. I wanted to achieve. It was important to me. It just goes to show the therapy was worth it,” he laughed.

Not how it has to be

Ultimately, the chef conceded that while this is what made him, things don't need to be - and can't be - done in the way they were before, not least because it makes staff retention nearby impossible. 

What matters most - and what meant the most to him when he learnt to be a chef, was the sense of being part of something bigger than him.

“I loved the family. Everywhere you went, you felt like you were part of a team going forward."

"That’s what great Michelin-starred kitchens are about: you’re a team of individuals pushing in the same direction together. It’s like going to war every service but it’s now all control. And d’you know what, it’s much nicer to work in a kitchen where you’re not getting shouted at. The fear shouldn’t be in a kitchen anymore.”

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th October 2019

'I got trained by psychos, so suddenly I became a psycho myself': Daniel Clifford on the old-fashioned ways that made him