Neil Clooney of Smithfields
Anna: Chef, where did you grow up?
Clooney: Just outside London, UK
Anna: Did you eat your veggies?
Clooney: Only after I ate my meat.
Anna: When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
Clooney: When i was 15. I was fascinated by hotels from a young age and did a work experience at a hotel and the only department I liked was the kitchen. The rest is history...
Anna: What is your favourite food memory?
Clooney: Not really sure if I had one. My mums cooking was pretty bad, hence the reason I explored cooking to see if there was more to it. I did like her braises, so anything that involves meat cooking for a long time would be one of them.
Anna: Where were you trained, and how difficult was your training?
Clooney: I did an apprenticeship program at a Forte hotel. 4 days at work, one day at college. It was pretty intense, but something I felt I needed at that point in my life.
Anna: How do you get your inspiration?
Clooney: Reading cookbooks, keeping up with the latest trends and dining out.
Anna: Favourite kitchen equipment or gadget?
Clooney: I have many from silpats to chinois's, immersion blenders. My current favouite is the pasta roller attachment to a kitchen aid.
Anna: Best piece of advice you would give a home enthusiast?
Clooney: Cook what you like and give it a lot of time and love. It makes the difference.
Anna: Best cooking tip for a novice just getting into the business?
Clooney: Show up on time and have a good attitude, the rest we can teach you. Oh, and don't expect to get paid well or work sociable hours.
Anna: Funniest kitchen incident?
Clooney: Wow, too many to recollect (or mention on this site). Although a server once asked me if there was any egg in eggplant. Too funny.
Anna: Who in the food world do you most admire?
Clooney: I have respect for Gordon Ramsey, and obviously Thomas Keller. All of the great chefs who have helped form this industry. But mainly to the young guns who represent and do what they do all in the name of good cooking.
Anna: Favourite foods to cook with?
Clooney: I enjoy cooking with pretty much everything. Although braising brings out a special part in me. Fish is very versatile and lends itself to lots of flavors.
Anna: What do you think is the most challenging ingredient to work with?
Clooney: Typically something I haven't worked with before proves to be a challenge, only for a few hours though.
Anna: Do you have a favourite wine?
Clooney: White wine has to be from the Sancerre region in France and Red from the Paso Robles region in California.
Anna: What do you like to eat when you’re at home?
Clooney: Comfort food, something quick and easy. Which, in my case, normally involves take away, Chinese, Thai or Indian.
Anna: Are there any foods you just don't like?
Clooney: Not that I've found. Oh, does Marmite count as a food???
Anna: Favourite cookbooks?
Clooney: Currently liking Fearnly Whittinghams about Meat, Kellars books, Fergus Henderson. Anything written by Michael Rulhman.
Anna: Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
Clooney: Just progressing, delveoping myself as a cook; building successful restaurants.
Anna: What is going to be the next big thing in the food world?
Clooney: Staying on track with substainability is the only way the food world can get better and move forward.
Anna: What do you do for fun?
Clooney: Golf, snowboard, poker, shooting the shit with the boys at the bar, jogging occasionally.
Anna: Where is your favorite place in the world?
Clooney: Ashland Oregon right now, that's why I chose to live here.
Anna: What do you most love about your job?
Clooney: The daily grind of dealing with local ranches, taking wonderful raw food and transforming it into dishes for my diners to experience.
Anna: If you had just one wish, what would it be?
Clooney: Wow ... that's a loaded question ... ;-)
Anna: One last question, Chef: What's your 'Last Supper' meal?
Clooney: Would have to be Boudin Noir (blood sausage), Mashed potatoes, Foie Gras rossini gravy, lots of bread and butter ... an explicit version of bangers and mash ... ;-)