If Danny Parker has a vaguely familiar look about him, chances are that you saw the 25-year-old cooking up a storm on the latest season of MasterChef: The Professionals.
‘I’m sick and tired of people saying, “If you want to do good food you have to go to London,” when it isn’t the case anymore,’ he says. ‘There are so many good places to eat in Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester. I think a lot of times we’re forgotten about. That’s one of the reasons I went on MasterChef, to promote the North East food scene.’
Danny started his career as a kitchen porter at The Talbot in Bishopton when he was 14 years old. Learning on the job and covering for absent members of staff, he worked his way up to Commis Chef. ‘I would get thrown onto desserts if they needed a hand,’ Danny says. ‘The first dishes I made were creme brûlées. I would weigh out the ingredients, and then blow-torch the tops.’ From there, Danny trained at Darlington College for three years before working at Wynyard Hall as a Chef de Partie and Sous Chef.
Now he’s Head Chef at the House of Tides restaurant on Newcastle Quayside. ‘I moved to Newcastle to open House of Tides with Kenny Atkinson, and that was a challenge,’ he says. ‘Then Abbie, Kenny’s wife, said, “Why don’t you apply for MasterChef?” I replied, “We’ve just opened here, there’s a lot to do.” Then Kenny said, “No, do it!” Both of them were really supportive and before I knew it I was going to film!’
Wowing the judges with his quail dish in the first round of MasterChef, Danny was soon making a name for himself and the North East in the competition. ‘The support was fantastic,’ he says. ‘I assumed when the show came out that it would just be friends and family supporting me, but it came from all over the North East of England. There were so many people wishing me well and sending me messages over Twitter and via social media, they’re so proud to have someone cooking and promoting the North East — showing that it’s not just takeaways up North!’
Although he didn’t enjoy the skills test, where he had to make a dish out of scraps, Danny coped well under the pressure. ‘Once I had settled down and knew my environment, I was a lot happier and I could cook my own food,’ he says. ‘A lot of my dishes were very well planned. If they said to me you’ve got one hour, I knew I could make it in 50 minutes.’
Being on the show was also a great opportunity to meet likeminded professionals. ‘Gaining feedback off Marcus [Wareing] and Monica [Galetti] was fantastic. They are so insightful and inspiring to be around,’ he says. ‘MasterChef taught me that there are so many different styles of food out there and there’s so many different qualities of chef out there. It doesn’t really matter what style you’re doing, as long as you’re enjoying it and your guests enjoy it too.’
He hopes that this is what he can offer guests who dine at House of Tides. ‘When I’m in the kitchen, working for a paying guest, I want to give them what they deserve for the money that they’re paying,’ he says. ‘For me, that’s one of the best feelings — people enjoying what you’re giving them. It’s not just a standard product at the end of the day, there’s a lot of thought and a lot of personality that has gone into the dishes.’
‘I’ve always wanted to do fine dining and fantastic food since I’ve become a chef. I didn’t want to be a part-time chef who just does bits and bobs. I thought if I’m going to spend 12 hours a day in a kitchen, in a hot environment, putting myself under all this pressure, I want to be the best. I want to do the best I can.’
Do you have a favourite dish that you like to cook?
One dish that will become a favourite for me is the quail that I did on MasterChef in the first round. I really enjoyed cooking it there, and I’ve enjoyed cooking it since. Obviously, the judges enjoyed eating it as well which is a bonus for me. I think that could be something that I do enjoy cooking for the rest of my life.
Where are your favourite restaurants?
I really like Middleton Lodge. I think the food and the setting there are really nice, it’s something I really enjoy: eating fine food in a relaxed place. It’s fantastic food, but very sociable. There’s also a place called Cal’s Own in Newcastle. The pizza there is just fantastic. Cal is someone who’s taken something very simple, practised it and travelled the world to make sure he’s got the best ingredients and, to be honest, I think he has.
What do you cook when you’re at home?
To be honest, Eggs Benedict. Aside from days off, I very rarely cook outside of work. I think people think that chefs eat really well: we don’t! Not if we cook for ourselves anyway.