Chef profile - Florencia Clifford, from Partisan in York
“The week before lockdown, we’d had our busiest week ever, then nothing.” Exhausted, stressed and grieving over the loss of a friend, she decided to see it as an opportunity to reflect on how they might do things differently.
Born in Argentina with a mix of Scottish, French and Italian heritage, Florencia was surrounded by a family of good cooks. During her time in New York she was inspired by the abundance of fresh food, the rise of artisan food markets and by her mother-in-law, a brilliant cook who taught her that good food doesn’t have to be complicated.
In 1994, Florencia moved to York with her young family and spent some of her time cooking for Buddhist retreats which became what Flo calls her Zen cooking journey. ‘‘It was magical. In a tiny kitchen, with a coal fired Rayburn and a couple of gas rings, it completely changed my view of what cooking was about.’’ She wrote about her experiences in her book Feeding Orchids to the Slugs.
In 2012, when a lovely old building in Micklegate became available, Florencia opened Partisan, the relaxed restaurant she’d always dreamed of. She took on Jim Gilroy, a chef who understood Flo’s vision: “Jim is a joy. He’s creative, has no ego and no arrogance.” Together they created Partisan’s eclectic menu: Persian eggs, scrambled with spinach, Medjool dates, yoghurt and dukkah; Korean bibimbap and bright fresh Mediterranean and Middle Eastern salads, sourcing as much of their food as possible from Food Circle, York’s community market at Tang Hall.
Post lockdown, Partisan is reduced to four tables on the ground floor and a few in the back garden and a takeaway service, Thursday to Monday.
Who is your culinary inspiration? Elizabeth David who was so influential in Britain. The first book by Yotam Ottolenghi that also changed my life, and Leila McAlister of Leila’s Shop in Shoreditch for her deep understanding of ingredients, sustainability and simplicity. I’m also inspired by the women of my family: my mum, my grandma, Lucy my mother-in-law and Jane my sister-in-law.
What cookery books have inspired you? Any of Skye Gyngell’s for their simplicity and her elegant plates of food.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? My husband Hugo, Leila McAllister and my friend Lisa Chaney (author of Elizabeth David’s biography). Plus Lori de Mori, who runs the lovely Towpath café on the Regent’s Canal, Jeong Kwan a Buddhist nun from South Korea, Francis Mallmann an Argentinian chef and Asma Khan of Soho’s Darjeeling Express.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Sourdough toast from Haxby Bakehouse. They delivered bread to our farm during lockdown. We exchanged it for beer, olives and kimchi. It made me feel connected and looked after.
What ingredient could you not manage without? Tamari, extra virgin olive oil, lemons, garlic.
How have you spent your time during this enforced break? I’ve done an online fermentation course with Daphne Lambert. I’ve been gardening, the vegetable garden looks incredible.
What are your future plans for Partisan? To create a more manageable and sustainable business with a focus on ethical sourcing. I’d like to see whether it’s possible to create a restaurant which is not just about the food but one that is lovely, calm and unique. We’ll just have to see if that is financially viable.
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