OUT OF MY TREE. MIDSUMMER HOUSE BY DANIEL CLIFFORD
It’s taken me a lot longer than usual to actually writing this review. Not because I procrastinated, or couldn’t find the will. More because I was scared. Scared I couldn’t put my thoughts into words, scared I couldn’t quite do this book justice.
Written as part cookbook, part autobiography, Out Of My Tree outlines the career of renowned Chef Daniel Clifford. Written by Clifford, it is, as Sat Bains so beautifully writes ‘Daniel’s open love letter to gastronomy: a letter of heartache, pain, sorrow, absolute elation and joy that you’d have to be fucking nuts to enjoy’. It exposes the culinary industry in all its nakedness, the blood, the sweat and the tears that go on behind the scenes to produce that mouthful that you happily linger over, chatting with your loved ones. Daniel leaves himself raw and exposed, detailing the sacrifices he has made in the name of Midsummer House and his career, this is man who not only cancelled his own wedding to work, but returned to work the same day each of his five children were born.
Yes, I wanted to hate Daniel. He is as Tom Kerridge says ‘The Epitome of a driven man’. But, this book resonated with me on such a personal level. I can emphasise completely with the reality that something can dominate your life to the extent that it becomes your life, ousting out all those who are close to you.
Unlike Marco Pierre White in the iconic book ‘White Heat’ Daniel shows remorse but not regret. His life has been, is, and will continue to be one big lesson. He will never stop progressing, learning, he just won’t let himself. His drive and tenacity are unparalleled. The minute something feels stale, he changes it, keeping that all important one step ahead. 10 years ago, he made the bold decision to change to solely offering tasting menus. Now most high end restaurants are doing the same. Daniel is now reverting back to a la carte, his way of keeping things fresh. In an industry threatened with the loss of trained professionals, Daniel is all to aware that tasting menus led to a ‘robotic’ team, continually cooking the same and never honing new skills. Indeed, many have left Midsummer to go on to great things, they owe it to the education they had from Midsummer and from Daniel. As his ex-general manager, Alan Dooley quotes ‘Once you have worked at Midsummer, you can work in any restaurant in the world’.
Beautifully located on the common in Cambridgeshire, Midsummer House is an unassuming building. Reached by a small bridge, you enter a 2 Michelin starred establishment that has seen joy, volatility and heartache difficult to match. Taken over by a young Daniel, full of pure grit, determination and talent 20 years ago, it has seen its fair share of disasters on its way to the higher echelons of the industry. Flooding, personal threats and vandalism by animal activists to name but a few. But, if the recipes and photography in this book are anything to go by, it has emerged as one of the greatest culinary establishments in Britain.
As a trained chef, I know how easy it is to become complacent. Receiving compliments on your creations begins to make you feel almost invincible. Well, this book put my feet firmly back on the ground, in fact I am metaphorically buried, I know nothing. It is very humbling to read recipes in complete awe of the sheer technical ability, time and background knowledge needed to create them. And when I say ‘create’ I mean it. This is not cooking, its
art. The dishes themselves would not look out of place as prints on the wall. Unassuming on the plate, but with each dish comprising at least 10 individual elements you realise just how fantastically hard cheffing at this level is. When you are presented with a plate, you have no idea the time, skill and graft that goes into it. High end cheffing is brutal. I can’t think of a career more brutal both physically and mentally. It’s not my place in a review to go into the facts, that’s why you need to read this book. But let me tell you this, if you think you’ve heard it all from Gordon Ramsey on the Television, you haven’t heard anything yet.
So yes, this book has changed me for the better. Both personally and professionally I am more inspired, more driven and more humbled. I may have painted a grim picture of this culinary genius but let me tell you, under the surface Daniel is a kind and generous man. Every single reference to him throughout the book ends in the truth that he is fundamentally an amazing guy. And yes, I have experienced this first hand. I was so overcome with emotion on finishing the book that I sent Daniel a message. He replied within the hour, personally and we had a chat. He didn’t need to even acknowledge me, but, he did, demonstrating what an authentic, balanced and grounded human being he is.
I only hope that one day I will be lucky enough to experience the magic of Midsummer House and thank him in person.