Acclaimed Two star Michelin chef Daniel Clifford returned to Yorkshire this week when he joined his former mentor Simon Gueller for a culinary masterclass at The Box Tree.
The pair turned back the clock to team up and cook a sumptuous five-course dinner for guests at the renowned Ilkley restaurant, run by Gueller.
It’s 29 years since Clifford, chef patron of the Two star Midsummer House, in Cambridge, last cooked at The Box Tree.
He was just 18 when he arrived to work alongside Gueller and Marco Pierre White. “Marco was in the middle and Michael Lambie was on one side and Simon was on the other, and we were lined up [as young chefs] and given the speech of life,” Clifford recalls.
After working at The Box Tree he spent nine months working for Gueller at Millers, in Harrogate. “I think that’s what shaped my career,” he says.
He left and spent time further honing his craft in France before returning to Yorkshire to work with Gueller once again, this time at Rascasse in Leeds.
Initially, he’d only planned to visit his friend. “I came up the day before Valentine’s Day with my girlfriend, not realising what the date was. He’d only just opened and he said ‘why don’t you stay for tomorrow?’ So I did that, the atmosphere in the kitchen was electric and I cancelled going to a Three Star [Michelin restaurant] in France and came back up to Yorkshire.”
He stayed for the next two-and-a-half years.
“I think the food there at that time was the best food in Yorkshire. I think it made me and it made a lot of chefs that we worked with. Me and Simon always had a great relationship and that restaurant moulded both of us.”
Gueller agrees and says the pair of them have a strong bond. “I always got on really well with Daniel, we’d go fishing together and spent a lot of time together outside work. I think working together at Rascasse made our relationship stronger. Daniel’s an amazing chef and for me he was the star of the kitchen.”
Clifford left in the summer of 1998 to go and open Midsummer House. “The Box Tree, Millers and Rascasse were the backbone of my career. I was going to stay but when Midsummer came up it was an opportunity I couldn’t really resist.”
Gueller, too, has enjoyed a stellar career. He got his first Michelin star in 1996 at Rascasse, which was the biggest restaurant outside of London to gain a Michelin star.
He left Rascasse to set up his eponymous restaurant in Leeds and that, too, gained a star in 2002. And after taking over the Box Tree he was again given the accolade in 2005.
For Clifford, returning to The Box Tree has been emotional. “When I walked in here again I got goosebumps. It’s a special place, there’s so much history here. People don’t perhaps know but this was the first Two star restaurant in the country [alongside a couple of others] and people used to travel from London to go to The Box Tree. It was one of the most iconic restaurants in the country, and it’s still got that feeling.”
The Box Tree was put up for sale in September, less than a year after losing its Michelin star, but both Gueller and his wife Rena stress the restaurant is still very much open for business and will remain so.