Just Be Really Good At What You Do, Says Isaac McHale Of The Clove Club
Isaac McHale is arguably one of the hottest British chefs of the moment. The chef-owner of one-Michelin-starred The Clove Club in London not only helped the restaurant secure the No. 33 spot on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018 list—topping three other British restaurants to be the highest entry from the UK this year—but is also helping put modern British food on the map with his innovative creations that celebrate British produce.
T.Dining caught up with him at the second edition of the Speciality & Fine Food Asia 2018 and discovered just how passionate, invested and affable a chef he is; he was down-to-earth and could easily shift the conversation from his mouthwatering dishes to discussing the British history in great detail.
“With the birth of the steam trains during the industrial revolution, there was rapid industrialisation in the UK; people moved to the cities and were torn away from their regional offerings,” he explained when asked why British cuisine and its regional delicacies are not as celebrated as Italian or French today.
Suffice it to say, there's a lot more to British foods than fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie. “We have bakedwell tarts, which are sponge tarts with jam, and faggots from the northeast of England, which are essentially meatballs made from chopped liver and heart and wrapped in pig stomach,” he adds.
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McHale is clearly fiercely proud of his culinary heritage, so we asked if his goal at The Clove Club is to put shed new light on these delicacies, to which he replied with a laugh, “I just wanted to do something tasty and give the diners as many wow moments as possible.” But hailing from Glasgow, Scotland, he confessed that he tries to incorporate “Scottish things” to his tasting menus when he can.
This includes the quintessential haggis which he serves as a precursor to the meal. Although this savoury pudding might make non-adventurous diners squeamish with ingredients such as finely ground sheep’s heart, liver, lungs and stomach, he presents them in a non-threatening way, with the gamey offal bits encrusted in a golden pancake batter and dusted with confectioner’s sugar.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS
The Clove Club is undoubtedly a runaway hit since it opened in 2013, with gourmands from across the globe queueing up for a taste of his fine cooking. This inspired him and business partner Joshua Loke to open Luca in 2016, a second venture offering Italian food through British lens.
“We have great ingredients and produce in the UK, which I thought wasn’t reflected enough in Italian menus,” he declared, before proceeding to enumerate the beautiful game you’ll find in their woodlands, seafood in their pristine waters, and vegetables in their expansive lands. “I spend 95 per cent of my time at The Clove Club; but once or twice a week I’m at Luca just to make sure that they’re doing fine.”
He shared about opening a third restaurant called Two Lights, scheduled to open on Kingsland Road this month. It will be headed by former Momofuku KO and The Clove Club chef Chase Lovecky, and will be a bit of a departure, serving modern American food and great wines.
It's quite a risk given the current Brexit situation and the volatile dining scene in general. But McHale seems undeterred, saying that the answer was to “just be really good at what you do”. He shared that it took him a long time to become a head chef because he wanted to master as many cuisines and techniques as he could—from cooking savouries to pastries—before positing how the new generation doesn’t seem to want to make too much effort to survive in the competitive industry.
“They say that to become an expert at something, you have need 10,000 hours, but you have to multiply that by 10 if you want to be a great chef,” he affirms. His advice to those who want to follow in his footsteps? Be prepared to put the time in and make it work. “No matter what you do, you can’t change the fact that people want to have lunch and dinner at a certain time, and that’s just how it is when you’re a chef.”