Andrew Clarke has had an intense year. Chef director at Brunswick House, his Instagram account will drive you to drool and he's soon to open his own place, Bastien. We spoke to him about his personal struggles, his future plans and how cooking saved his life.
First of all, can you tell us about your influences as a chef?
I think the two biggest influences when I first started out in kitchens nearly 20 years ago were Fergus Henderson (St. John) and Philip Howard (The Square, now Elystan Street). Both of them are at polar ends of the spectrum in terms of style, but having been fortunate enough to work in both their kitchens, they had a big impact on the way I was to view food.
These days I'm drawn to amazing produce to lead the way in my cooking. I never really plan dishes as I usually get it wrong when I overthink them. I work with the seasons, colours and textures. With good sourcing of ingredients comes a delicious plate of food. Just don't fuck around too much.
What's been the biggest/most important moment of your career so far?
I'm not sure there's a single moment I could pick out, but certainly, this year seems to have exploded with positive reviews, opportunities and very kind words from people in the industry. I've cooked my way through heartache and depression and got myself back on my feet this year.
For much of my adult life I have suffered with drink and drug problems. I have always been self-destructive and never quite happy. It all linked back to an incident when I was 20 that had me looking at life in prison.
When I finally met someone that really loved, I foolishly put all my happiness in her. I thought my future was secure. I was the happiest I'd ever been.
When she left me last Christmas, I couldn't function. All the demons I had been suppressing came to the surface and I was close to taking my own life. I sank into deep depression.
Prior to this, I had already decided that I would have a sober 2016, to gain some control and focus on my career. I was determined to stick with this but it meant I had no crutch for my problems. I had to deal with them head on.
I worked 100+ hours a week to keep my mind focused and positive. It was the only thing I had.
The team were very supportive and I thrived on their energy, slowly gaining back weight and my appetite too. I cooked some of the best food I've ever cooked. Straight from the heart. Completely emotional.
Each service I became stronger and stronger. I started to love who I was and where my journey was taking me. Feedback from guests, critics and industry folk was also so encouraging and still helps drive me forward.
Cooking really did bring me back from the dead. At the beginning of the year I thought I was left with nothing. Now I see there's a real future if I put all my happiness in myself.
Cooking definitely saved me. But I think the biggest moment is yet to come!
What are your plans for the future?
Bastien! It's a project that's been in development for 18 months now, but I'm confident of a 2017 opening. Its gonna be a French style BBQ joint specialising in duck, cooked over a medieval hearth and spit.
I’m hoping to take my offal event "Glandstonbury" on tour — perhaps USA & Canada but I guess that depends how the current state of affairs across the pond unfold.
Oh and I’m writing my first cookbook.
Where do you eat on your night off?
Well I rarely ever cook at home. I'm not a good home cook either. I burn stuff and go to bed disappointed and hungry. Also it's pointless cooking just for myself, so I always eat out. I live in Hackney so often hit a Turkish ocakbasi or a Vietnamese joint, just for the ease of staying local.
I love big flavours and spices. My favourite restaurant IN THE WORLD is Lahore Kebab House in Whitechapel. I get my fix there once a week. But I'm also slightly obsessed with Sichuan, Hunanese and X'ian regional Chinese cuisines which I'm prepared to travel across London for!