Danny Parker, head chef, House of Tides, Newcastle

The Staff Canteen

Danny Parker is head chef at Kenny Atkinson's Michelin-starred House of Tides in Newcastle.

The 25-year-old originally from Stockton, featured on our TV screens last year when he made it to the final five of MasterChef: The Professionals but away from the limelight this talented chef works alongside Great British Menu winner and owner of House of Tides, Kenny.

This is Kenny’s first solo restaurant and he and his brigade are keen to put the north on the culinary map. Danny fell into cooking as he always thought he would follow in his dad’s footsteps and join the army. But after becoming a kitchen porter age 14 he hasn’t looked back since, progressing from the local village pub to working for Alan O’Kane and now Kenny.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Danny about his passion for the north east, MasterChef: The Professionals 2014 and why he would love a Michelin star. 

So cooking wasn’t what you had planned to do as a career?

Kenny and Danny

Kenny Atkinson and 

Danny Parker

No! I wanted to go into the army. My dad was in the army for 25 years so I was always going to carry that on. But I got a job as a kitchen porter when I was 14 in the village pub, the Talbot at Bishopton, and from there it spiralled into me being a chef – completely by accident really. I left there when I was 20 with a good understanding of cooking and during my time there I attended Darlington Technology College.

It was then I moved to Wynyard Hall as a chef de partie and the head chef Alan O’Kane joined at the same time. When I left three and half years later I was senior sous chef.

Did you learn a lot at Wynyard?

I did yes, Alan taught me a lot and he had a hell of a lot of time for me. I was often the first one in and the last one out and Alan respected that. He had a lot of patience with me over some of the other guys I think.

How did you end up working for Kenny Atkinson at House of Tides?

I’d wanted to work for Kenny at Rockliffe Hall for a while but there was never the right position for me there. In 2013 I did the starter for the North East Hotelier Awards, and Kenny was quite heavily involved in it. I got talking to him, and found out he was opening a restaurant I thought now’s my time to get on board and work with him. It’s not just the cooking, it’s where he’s cooking – that was the big reason for me choosing to try and get in with Kenny. House of Tides opened in January last year, I went in as sous chef and I went up to head chef in the July.

What’s he like to work for?

He’s probably the best boss I’ve ever had! Firstly he’s a chef and a boss at the same time, so he has the restaurant to run but if I go to him because I need new equipment in the kitchen – he’s all over it. He knows what it’s like to be a chef without the right equipment. He’s just so good to work with – he’s coming up with ideas left, right and centre. I get phone calls at midnight, on my day off and it’s Kenny asking ‘what do you think of this? Do you think this would go?’ Every day is just different and it’s so exciting to work with someone like that.

Dream restaurant                                                       

I’d just like a nice place, cooking nice food and if Michelin are happy to give it a star then great. I’d like a restaurant in the north east, in a little village not too far out of the way so people don’t know where you are but far enough that you’re out of the hustle and bustle of the city. If not the north east then abroad, I’d go and live the Spanish life!

Dream brigade                                                             

MPW Gordon Ramsay

Marcus Wareing

Aiden Byrne

Claude Bosi

Tom Kerridge

All the boys out of house of tides kitchen too!

Is the north east where you would like to stay or do you feel the draw of London?

I don’t have plans to go anywhere. I’m enjoying my job here, I enjoy my life in Newcastle, and London never really appealed to me after the age of 19. From what I’ve seen and places I’ve been the kitchens are a lot more military style down there than here. Here it’s more laid back and a different kind of pressure. In London guests are so used to eating out at 

Canteen Venison

restaurants of a certain level that there is no let up at all. High-end dining is a bit new to people in the north east, it’s nice to please them and see their reaction when they come for a tasting menu and they really enjoy it despite some coming with reservations about what they would be getting.

How has House of Tides been received in Newcastle?

I’d say 90 percent of guests are happy. There are some people who just don’t get it, they want steak and chips or lobster thermadore and they want big farmer portions. But the other 90 percent come to us and they know what to expect. It’s a tough crowd to please but I think we are doing a very good job.

Are you quite passionate about putting the north on the culinary map and attracting more Michelin attention?

House of Tides
House of Tides

To be honest we would love to have a star but we’re not cooking for them and to please them – we are cooking to please the people of the north east. I would like to see the region put on the map a bit more, well the north in general! It does sometimes annoy us that you see the Michelin guide come out and the AA guide come out and there are so many places awarded in London. It is a lot more saturated down there but I still think there are some good quality restaurants in Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds, and it would be nice to see them with more recognition.

Obviously we’ve seen you in action on last year’s MasterChef: The Professionals and you seemed to already have a style which you are most comfortable with. Is this right?

I think I’m still learning my style. I spent so much time with Alan that a lot of my influences came from him, but now I’m seeing Kenny’s style and my style itself is starting to adapt. I’m still young so I’d hate to say this is my style, this is what I do and how I do it. I just cook what I enjoy eating and what I think other people would enjoy eating. I don’t do things just for the sake of it or because it looks good – it’s not about that.

 So what made you enter MasterChef: The Professionals?

Canteen Quail 2

Kenny and his wife Abbie! I knew the applications were out and I had kind of considered it, but we had just opened at House of Tides a few weeks before entries closed for it. They said ‘why don’t you go for it? If you get through we’ll sort something out.’ I got through and we dealt with it!

Was the first time on set cooking in front of cameras as you expected or a bit of a shock?

I think if anyone saw the first couple of episodes it was clear I didn’t deal with it very well at all! But after that it was fine, you were just cooking and doing the job you do every day – just in a different kitchen. I didn’t enter the competition thinking I couldn’t win. There’s no point setting yourself up for failure so obviously I thought I was good enough to win. But then when you see the other calibre of chefs you don’t doubt yourself but you start thinking it’s going to be a hard push because these guys are good too.

What was it like cooking in the chefs table round for a room full of Michelin-starred chefs?

Terrifying if I’m honest! I remember saying it’s just like cooking for 30 people in the restaurant, then you start hearing the names of the chefs being read out of who was coming and it starts to become more real and scary. These are the guys who are at the top of their game in the industry, we have their books on our shelves at home. They’re at the forefront, so to be cooking for them was quite nerve wrecking.

Canteen Terrine

Were you disappointed to go out before the trip to Mugaritz?

Yeah! I would have loved to go there, it was quite hard to watch that episode. I didn’t know where they had gone until I watched it so I was quite annoyed. It’s just a completely different style which a lot of chefs are never going to experience.

And would you do it again?

I would, all of it, it was an amazing experience.

What about Marcus Wareing, what was he like?

If you made a mistake, or you were doing something incorrect you could guarantee you’d look up and Marcus would be there watching you! But he was a really nice guy, the feedback he gave on the show wasn’t harsh it was the truth and you could see it meant a lot to him to have a good chef win.

Are you back to the normal routine now?

The first day going back to work was a big shock – I swapped Marcus for Kenny! A lot of the time I’m just making sure the guys are doing what they should be. We have a fantastic team, everyone in the kitchen is hungry for it and they want to progress which makes my job a lot easier.

When it comes to the menu do you come up with dishes and Kenny has the final say?

House of TIdes
House of Tides

Yes, I’d say the menu is Kenny’s and what I do is after work I’ll sit down, write up a few ideas and give them to him. Then the whole dish might go on, half the dish or we’ll sit down and work on it. The whole team have an influence on the menu, we’ll all speak openly about what we think of the dishes and Kenny will take it on board.

Have you developed a lot under Kenny?

This year I’ve improved as a person as well as a chef. There’s a lot more pressure in this role than there has been in my previous jobs. It’s the pressure to please the guests and Kenny.

What would you like to achieve in the future?

Talking personally I’d like to be working with a Michelin star. That’s not the aim at House of Tides, the aim is to have a full restaurant every night. That’s the main focus all of us are on at the minute. See our head chef jobs here if you would like to follow in Danny's footsteps.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th February 2015

Danny Parker, head chef, House of Tides, Newcastle