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Ones to watch: Fred Clapperton

Ones to watch: Fred Clapperton

by Great British Chefs 19 September 2017

When Drake’s became The Clock House in January 2017, the role of head chef was thrust onto Fred Clapperton. Eight months later, he’s making the menu his own.

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What do you do when the chef-owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant leaves the business? In the case of Drake’s, you find a talented young person to take their place and rebrand. Now known as The Clock House, this Surrey-based business housed inside a beautiful Georgian building has seamlessly continued serving high-end dishes – thanks to head chef Fred Clapperton.

Originally from a small town near Doncaster, Fred’s first taste of a professional kitchen was potwashing in local pubs for a bit of pocket money. From there he progressed to waiting on, then to helping in the kitchen whenever someone was off sick. ‘This was while I was at college studying architecture, which I chose for the creativity but soon realised I wasn’t interested in the maths side of things,’ he explains. ‘It eventually clicked that working in the kitchen could be a really creative career, so I left my course and enrolled at catering college.

‘I continued working at the same pub I’d been a potwasher in for quite a long time and eventually moved to a new pub in another village opened by the same landlady,’ continues Fred. ‘I was the only chef in the kitchen, and while I was teaching myself lots of things I wanted to progress to the next stage of my career. So I moved down south to work at a restaurant near Huntingdon called The Pheasant, which was a runner-up on The F Word many years ago. After that I worked at a 2 AA Rosette place in the Cotswolds, and after that I joined Drakes.’

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Fred joined the team as a demi chef de partie in 2012 and worked his way up through the ranks. When chef-owner Steve Drake left at the end of 2016, he was promoted to head chef. ‘I’ve progressed quite quickly,’ he says, ‘sometimes I think a little too quickly. But it was nice that Steve had the confidence in me – that’s what got me to where I am now.’

While Fred had picked up plenty of skills in other kitchens, it was during his time at Drake’s that he truly developed his own cooking style. Steve acted as both boss and mentor, and the way he worked was one of the main reasons Fred moved to the restaurant in the first place. But now Fred is in charge, he’s able to express his own style fully – and while it’s similar to Steve’s, it has plenty of differences too.

‘Both our cooking styles are quite intricate and focused on great quality produce, and while we both like to use more unusual cuts or wild ingredients, I think my flavour combinations are quite natural, whereas Steve had that sort of off-piste side to his style,’ says Fred. ‘One of the dishes that best sums up my cooking is the beef dish on our à la carte – it’s a braised short rib with sweetbreads and variations of kohlrabi. There’s a caramelised kohlrabi purée which has a nice rich depth, some salt-baked kohlrabi that balances out the flavour and then some raw kohlrabi which adds bite and a fresh juiciness to the plate. As the seasons chance the vegetables will too – I might use cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli or baby leeks. As long as there’s a nice balance between the flavours it generally works, although I’m always sure to refine the dish before it goes on the menu.’

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Unlike a lot of other kitchens Fred creates all the desserts himself so he can express his creativity. ‘I love pastry as it’s probably the section you can be most creative in, although it’s also the section where more things can go wrong,’ he explains. ‘At one point I did actually consider specialising in it, but I eventually want to open my own place so wanted to get experience across all areas. Again, it’s all about the variations for me – my favourite dish at the moment is a hibiscus set cream with hibiscus gel, and then that comes with acidic apple balls, a sweet apple compote and apple sorbet. Then there’s some lemon balm and lemon shortbread, which adds some texture.’

With a new menu true to Fred’s own style and a new name over the restaurant door, The Clock House has certainly set itself apart from its former self. Fred might have been head chef for nearly a year, but he’s still finding his feet when it comes to running the kitchen. ‘The whole brigade is completely new, which was a really difficult but exciting challenge – I had to find my own staff and train them up. Now we have a really friendly close-knit team, and everyone has a hell of a lot of passion. I think what makes The Clock House stand out is just how beautiful the place is. We have a lovely back garden and terrace where guests can sit and enjoy their arrival drinks and snacks, we have a small vegetable patch outside too and the building itself is just so special.’

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