As part of the process of publishing Daniel Clifford’s debut cook book Out of My Tree – Midsummer House, Daniel asked me to write a chapter about my experience working on the book with him.
I thought I’d share it with you…
Phil Turner – Meze Publishing Limited
Like everyone who meets Daniel for the first time, there’s no point pretending I wasn’t anxious. His reputation was well known and every time I mentioned to anyone that I was working with him, their words may have said ‘great news’ but their expressions said ‘good luck.’
I quickly realised that if we were to do him justice in this book, I would have to get to know him; good and bad, angry and sad, chef, father, son, husband, ex-husband, boss, entrepreneur, innovator, TV celebrity… there were many different sides to Daniel and I needed to unpick each one. We spent lots of time in the restaurant and at his home chatting about his life and he was always uncompromising, unfailingly honest, but welcoming. Obviously we both love food, so there was lots of common ground there. Then when he asked me to reply to some of his text messages, but suggested I made sure to put in a few spelling mistakes, “so they know it’s from me,” I felt like I was accepted. For someone who’s dyslexic, he spends a lot of time reading and writing tweets, Instagram posts and WhatsApp messages.
But the place I really got to know Daniel, was in his development kitchen, working alongside brilliant photographer Tim Green, out the back of Midsummer, affectionately known as ‘The Shed’. We spent twelve long days in there shooting these recipes, sometimes taking hours and hours to get a dish just right, the silence broken either by the ping of another one of Daniel’s ‘behind the scenes’ posts on social media, or him breaking out into a French version of Nena’s ‘99 Red Balloons’. That song still goes around my head even now.
Daniel was and is all the things you’ll have read about in this book or heard on the grapevine, but he’s also fiercely proud of what he’s achieved (and rightly so), loyal and full of fun. When you’ve spent five hours trying to not only make the perfect soufflé, but also capture it on camera, trust me, it’s easy to lose your sense of humour.
And for an enthusiastic, wannabe chef like myself, those twelve days were an unbelievable experience. To watch not only one of the best chefs in the country but also his right hand man, head chef Mark Abbott, make the dishes that define Midsummer at such close quarters; there really is nothing like it. I learnt that Daniel prefers Mark to do the quenelles, it’s best to avoid him on a Sunday, and that if I want to cook like Mr. Clifford my kitchen cupboard will need some updating. Espuma guns, a Pacojet, and for that perfect presentation, a set of tweezers wouldn’t go amiss.
But what really stands out when I think back are the flavours. Yes, the food looks stunning. Yes, the stories of those wild days at Rascasse and the early years at Midsummer will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. But when it comes down to it, it’s all about the food. That’s what it was always about. And Daniel’s is the best I’ve ever tasted. I could eat his rose, artichoke and lychee dessert every day for the rest of my life and die happy; it’s the perfect balance of taste and texture with that clever hint of the unexpected. And I could name twenty other dishes that were just as good.
So enjoy the book. Enjoy the stories, the passion and the drama. But make sure you find something in here to cook. Because when you get it right, you’ll be recreating it again, and again, and again.
The book is available from: