Mark Abbott, Head Chef, Midsummer House

The  Staff Canteen

Mark Abbott, who made it through to the banquet on Great British Menu 2016, is head chef at Daniel Clifford’s Midsummer House which holds two stars in the Michelin Guide UK and 4 rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide.

Mark was almost destined to be a farmer, until school led him into the kitchen. After a week of work experience in a local hotel, Mark got the bug and was offered a summer job, where it all began.  Working for big names such as Michael Dean, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles and Paul Kitching at 21212, Mark moved to Cambridge to work at Midsummer House in September of 2010. He commenced employment as a chef de partie and then took over as head chef in December 2014.  Five years later Mark hasn’t looked back, working up through the sections.

Mark Abbott
Mark Abbott

Did Daniel approach you to become head chef at Midsummer House? 

Yes.  The head chef at the time had handed in his notice and straight away he asked me would I consider the job.

How did you start working for Daniel Clifford?

I was working at 21212 in Edinburgh and felt it was time to move on.  Prior to this I worked at 2 star restaurant Andrew Fairlie and wanted to return to that level of cooking.  I did a couple of stages in London, Pied a Terre and Hibiscus. 

I really enjoyed them as they are both fantastic kitchens but I felt London wasn’t for me. When I started working in Midsummer House it was a small team of 7 chefs.  At that time the head chef covered the meat, fish and sauce sections as well as the pass.  It was a fast paced kitchen yet the food produced was stunning. 

>>> Related: Daniel Clifford, Midsummer House and Flitch of Bacon

I accepted the job without meeting Daniel as he wasn’t there on the days of my trial.  I had heard a number of stories about how hard this kitchen was to work in and how Daniel’s expectations were higher than most.  Many people said I wouldn’t stick it, but I was determined to rise to the challenge as I really wanted to work here!

How are you finding the role?

I am really enjoying it.  There is clearly much more responsibility than ever before.  With coming through the ranks of Midsummer and working under two past head chefs I knew what the expectation was.   I was also very aware where Daniel wanted Midsummer to go and how we can improve it. We have increased the brigade from 7 to 12.  It’s a very different environment in the kitchen than before.  It’s a lot less aggressive and now more controlled.

Dream restaurant  

It would be in the country, concentrating on the ingredients themselves, using the very best around. 

 

Dream brigade  

I would love to have a team as passionate as me to produce top quality dishes and enjoy doing it at the same time! 

 

Dream team 

Pastry Montacer Mansour 

Larder – Ian Scaramuzza 

Garnish – ‘Chef Pirate’ (Steve Lancaster) 

Fish – Ollie Williamson 

Meat – Greg Clarke 

Pass- Peirre ‘The Bear’ Koffman 

Kitchen Porter- Mark Abbott

We also have a development chef who is constantly working along with Daniel, myself and the rest of the team to change and improve the menu.  I feel it is very important to involve all members of the team in this. It gets them excited and creates ownership as they have played a part to produce a new dish. We try and put as much time as possible into training the team.  I am very hands on and get alongside any of the chefs during prep. I want to pass on the knowledge and skills that my peers have given to me!

Do you think it is important that Daniel has a lot of input in the kitchen?

At the end of the day it’s ‘Midsummer House Daniel Clifford’. It’s his restaurant, it’s his baby, and he built this place more or less with his own hands. He laid the bricks, he laid the floor - there’s not a job the man wouldn’t do, and there’s not a thing in the place he can’t fix. When I first started Daniel had literally just come off the stove. He cooked the meat and fish for over 10 years.

daniel clifford and Mark AbbottThe kitchen runs on his heart beat!  He isn’t here as much as he once was but still knows everything that goes on!  If something breaks or if there is an ingredient going out of season he will know about it! 

Daniel will still come in and pull a board up and crack on with the boys doing prep!  Or quite often turn around to one of the chef de parties and say I’ll cook the fish tonight with the commie and you will do the pass with Mark.  He is still very hands on and loves being in his kitchen!

Is the menu down to you or does Daniel decide?

We are constantly working on the menu as a team.  I might get a text message from Daniel at 2am saying order 6 oysters and some other ingredients.  The next day we will work on a dish together.  Sometimes we get it right straight away or it might be the start of a completely different dish.  We don’t put anything on the menu until both of us are totally happy with it!

What have you learnt from Daniel?

I was really fortunate to have been trained by the man himself on the meat and fish sections! He’s hyperactive and wants everything to be done instantly which has obviously had an effect on me! Daniel’s work ethic is admirable and he will never be defeated. If something breaks there’s no such thing as ‘I can’t do that’, it’s ‘let’s get it done’ another way. This has improved my inventive skills!

mark abbott quoteDaniel always gives everyone a chance, there’s not a chef that comes into the kitchen that is looked down on. We give them all opportunities to prove and better themselves. If a chef falls it’s up to us as the management team to pick them back up and provide encouragement to continue in our kitchen. I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to prove myself and believe others should be given that also.  It doesn’t always work out for all chefs who come into Midsummer House.  It might be their work ethic or our kitchen may not be for them.


Has Daniel influenced your style? Is it hard to find your own style? 

I’d say my style is very much that of Midsummer House. It’s what I have engulfed myself in for the last five years! Obviously every place I have worked along with every book I have read has influenced me throughout my career. I came to Midsummer House because I loved the food and still do! I think my style is trying not to overcomplicate things, making the flavours stand out and let the ingredients speak for themselves.

Do you think it’s important for young chefs to learn classical ways of cooking?

Yes, without a doubt. In Midsummer House we use water baths, thermo mixes and over high tect bits of kit. Although modern appliances, we use them alongside classical ways.  For example a hollandaise sauce is made over a bain marie. We would never think of putting it into a thermo mix as the chefs being trained need to know how to make it this way.Twitter pic 2

Another example is roasting whole duckling through the oven in butter.  These skills cannot be learnt by reading a book.  I feel it is very important and only fair for young chefs to be given the opportunity to learn these invaluable skills of their craft. 

What really stands out when you move into a Michelin environment?

Initially it was the amazing quality of ingredients which were being used.   Alongside this I noticed how much respect each chef gave the produce from when it comes through the door in the morning until it is served on a plate.  The discipline, manner, passion and amount of pride that people take in themselves is outstanding.   Everyone is striving to improve the quality and taste of all food produced, consistently plating each dish the same as the time before.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment I’m very firmly at Midsummer House, I’ve only been head chef since November 2014.

 

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th March 2016

Mark Abbott, Head Chef, Midsummer House