Daniel Clifford

Daniel Clifford

Daniel Clifford

Daniel Clifford’s astonishingly creative, flawlessly executed dishes focus on purity of flavour and reverence for ingredients. Despite having been flooded twice, his sheer determination meant the restaurant always recovered, winning the chef two Michelin stars in the process and cementing his position as one of the best culinary minds in Britain.

Describing himself as 'a complete tearaway', Daniel Clifford’s dad had never seen a school report from him before his work experience in the kitchens at Canterbury University in his home county of Kent. When he returned after two weeks with every box of excellence ticked and sporting a job offer, his dad called the school to tell them his son had to leave early – 'he’s found what he wants to do'.

A three-year apprenticeship at Howfield Manor Hotel in Canterbury followed, with college day release. In 1992 he went to work as commis chef at The Bell Inn in Buckinghamshire, under David Cavalier – the chef that he credits with having the most profound influence on his career. 'I looked up to him like God,' he says. 'He was totally focused – nothing could be compromised.' A demi chef de partie position followed at the Box Tree in Ilkley, West Yorkshire, then a spell as chef de partie at Millers in Harrogate, North Yorkshire and a sous chef position at Provence restaurant in Lymington, Hampshire.

Daniel then moved onto two-Michelin-starred Jean Bardet Restaurant in Tours, France, where he worked as chef de partie. He cites chef Jean Bardet as another source of enormous influence in his career – a chef who taught him to look beyond showy presentation and instead focus on purity of flavour. At the heart of this was a profound respect for ingredients.

His old head chef from Millers, Simon Gueller, persuaded Daniel to return to England. He needed a senior sous chef for his recently opened Rascasse in Leeds and Daniel Clifford was his man. Simon Gueller went on to win his first Michelin star at Rascasse.

With the help of business partner Russell Morgan, Daniel Clifford opened Midsummer House in Cambridge in 1998. He said that his business partner is 'more of a father figure than anything. He has given me a lot of support and a lot of guidance and he is one of the main reasons that we are where we are today, because you can’t do this on your own. It’s not a single-minded, one-person vision – it takes a team of people to get where we are today.'

Only one year later, the restaurant was devastated by flood, then again in 2000 when the River Cam burst its banks once more. After the second flood, instead of making all his staff redundant, he got them involved in the clean up and only three-and-a-half weeks later, the restaurant reopened. During that period, Daniel and his team had time to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the restaurant and when it once more opened its doors, it did so with many improvements and a stronger sense of purpose. Like many other high-end restaurants in Britain, the style of service was relaxed and the food was refined and simplified.

This setback proved to be a turning point for the restaurant – just two months after it returned in 2002, it won its first Michelin star. A second followed in 2005, which it has retained ever since. Midsummer House also holds five AA rosettes and 8/10 in the Good Food Guide, as well as being a fixture in the Good Food Guide's Top 50.

With his first head chef position coming when he opened Midsummer House, Daniel has taken time to truly develop his own style of cooking – to pack his 3,000 cookbooks away in the loft and look to himself for inspiration instead. He has moved away from cooking that is founded on a classical French tradition to something more experimental. Gone is the traditional adherence to luxuries – the langoustines, foie gras and truffle – and in its place is a broader spectrum on ingredients, with everything earning its place on taste alone. And in progressing his style he has drawn inspiration from his time in Tours, working with Jean Bardet.

Noted for his absolutely outstanding amuse-bouches, such as this Bloody Mary foam with salsa, other signature dishes include his Hand-dived scallops with celeriac-truffle purée and apple textures – which has been on the menu since the outset – and his Chicken wings with Reblochon pomme purée and chicory. His dessert drink, Pousse café – layers of lemon and whisky cream, egg yolk cream and sweet maple syrup – has now become iconic and customers have been known to request up to four of these 'shots' in one sitting.

With Daniel Clifford’s towering ambitions in mind, and the knowledge that he has five young daughters on his hands too, where he finds the time for another venture is a mystery. And yet, he opened The Flitch of Bacon in 2015 – a beautiful country pub just fifteen minutes from his home in Essex. After a considerable period spent renovating, Daniel joined forces with longtime friend Tim Allen, putting him in charge of the kitchen and subsequently winning a Michelin star in 2018, which it retained until 2021, when Tim left. Paul Croasdale has since taken over as chef patron.

When Daniel won Chef's Chef of the Year at the AA Awards in 2016, it confirms what many of us had known for some time – he is a chef performing at the very top of his game. Over the course of three decades, he has fully realised his own unique style, and today, he is unquestionably one of the greatest chefs in the country.