Reducing opening hours might work for established restaurants (Kiazim was on national television, Bains’ restaurant is described as “worth a detour” by the Michelin guide), but Clarke points out that closing three nights a week simply doesn’t work for places without a steady customer base.“I don’t think it would work for businesses staying alive,” he says. “To get everyone well rested, you need more chefs and that would cost the business, particularly smaller businesses, a lot of money to operate.”Instead of changing work hours, Clarke thinks restaurants should improve work culture by training head chefs to become better managers and instilling rules against bullying.“There are things we can’t change and things we can change,” he says. “We can change how we treat each other.”Gordon agrees: “I think to say that the hours has no impact [on the mental health of chefs] is wrong, but if you’re working in an incredibly supportive environment and you're doing those hours—and you're loving it—that’s quite a different situation.”
"Because of the intensity in the work you’re doing, it’s a really hard environment to function in when you’re not 100-percent."
"Whether we’re adrenaline junkies I’m not sure, but I think there is a tendency to work hard, play hard."
On the same day as our talk in the coffee shop, Clarke shows me around St. Leonard’s, a new restaurant he is opening with Brunswick House collaborator Jackson Boxer. A few minutes walk from Old Street tube station, the space is a concrete shell—empty save for construction workers hurrying around in high-vis vests. Clarke excitedly points to where the wood-fired grill will be, and describes his plan to install an ice bar for fresh shellfish on the back wall. “We’ve got a very, very interesting kitchen in terms of the hearth, the fireplace, and the ice bar,” he says proudly.I ask Clarke whether preparing for this launch has been different to restaurant openings he has worked on in the past.“I’m trying to rest up while I can at the moment. Exercise is also gonna help, looking after myself really well,” he says. “I’m not drinking or partying, that’s it. When it comes to everyone else, I want to be a better person by constantly feeding back and getting the best out of people. My head chef is a guy that I gave his first job to 15 years ago. He’s a super talented guy and having him again will hopefully take him to the next stage of his career.”“I’m hoping to create a very inspiring kitchen with interesting techniques,” he smiles. “And just making sure that everyone has the best time.”
“There are things we can’t change and things we can change. We can change how we treat each other.”