#MadeAtLeiths: Dan Cameron on taking it to the next level

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#MadeAtLeiths: Dan Cameron on taking it to the next level

As part of our #MadeAtLeiths series, after completing the Leiths diploma in 2003, Dan Cameron has made the rounds as an established chef, restaurateur with evolving Modern European restaurant Cameron’s Kitchen, teacher at Leiths and now with a successful catering company to his name, Cameron and Co – creative dining and events.

I’d been cooking for about three years and had worked at a number of good local restaurants and gastropubs before doing the diploma at Leiths.

Having been working in the industry for a while I felt that I wanted to take my cooking to the next level. I wanted to improve on the skills that I had learnt already with focus on making everything from scratch. With a thorough enjoyment of cooking, it was clear that if I wanted to do this professionally, I would want to be the best I could be and Leiths seemed the right way to do this.

The cookery demonstrations from top chefs such as Michael Caine and Peter Gordon were memorable and compelling. Watching these people at the top of their game was inspiring and motivational. Increasing my knowledge about wine was inspiring. I had limited knowledge beforehand and only knew what I liked and drank myself. Leith’s gave me a great foundation in wine knowledge and given this interest I opened my own wine merchant and bar.

I’d continued working weekends at the gastropub that I worked at prior to my diploma and upon completion I continued for a few months, waiting for the right opportunity to come up. I opted to join Gordon Ramsay holdings and worked as a Senior Chef de Partie under Jason Atherton at Maze where I was involved in the opening.

I went on to work at Mayfair’s Berkeley Square Restaurant for a number of years and left in 2006, having been promoted to Sous Chef. I felt ready, having 7 years of professional cooking experience at some top restaurants and of course, the groundings from the diploma, to go out on my own.

When the opportunity arose to take over a canal side pub near Milton Keynes, I jumped at the chance. This was a completely new experience for me and brought with it a whole new array of challenges. Working at some of London’s top restaurants and studying the diploma you are surrounded by passionate and dedicated chefs so moving from this to a rural pub in Northamptonshire serving predominantly frozen food from disinterested staff was hard work! It took a lot but I eventually managed to turn the pub into what I had envisaged and was pleased to see my hard work paying off when we were listed in The Telegraph’s Top 10 Waterside Pubs feature.

In 2008 I was approached to take part in the first series of MasterChef: The Professionals and having impressed at Gidleigh Park made it all the way to the finals.

Off the back of the success of Masterchef, I opened Cameron’s restaurant in a small dining room at the back of the pub. Cameron’s was a great success and quickly outgrew the small room in which it operated. I was lucky enough to find a great venue just a few miles down the road in the market town of Stony Stratford – three months after agreeing we were serving customers at our new location. Since opening Cameron’s Brasserie we have proved very successful and offer interesting, fresh food in an area that is dominated by high street chain restaurants. One of my proudest moments has been being voted The Foodie Guide’s ‘Best Restaurant in Buckinghamshire’ in 2013.

I wouldn’t have been able to become a restaurateur had I not completed the diploma. Although running your own business brings about many different challenges I often refer back to the knowledge I gained at Leiths, especially when it comes to wine. I very often think back to techniques and recipes I learnt during my time in the kitchens at Leiths. My Leiths bible is still my most used cookbook and is now looking extremely loved!

After selling the restaurant in August 2018, I decided to take the best parts of running the restaurant, and focus on the parts I enjoy the most; focussing on quality, atmosphere and most importantly, delicious food I’m able to, along with my partner Ailie, create events and experiences for customers that I’d like to go to myself. A week in my life is extremely varied and I’m definitely kept busy whether that be hosting a private cookery lesson or preparing a dinner party for 12 or 400, menu planning for our next supper club or on a site visit ahead of a big corporate event. I’ve recently found myself come the full circle and am now back teaching at Leiths, where I’m constantly inspired by the students, many of whom are at the very beginning of their careers in food and I can’t wait to see where these first steps lead them.

My advice to anyone thinking about taking the next step into a career in food is to make the most of it. You’ll get out what you put in, if you go with the right attitude and are prepared to work hard; the learning and opportunities are endless.

@cameron_and_co

@chef_dan_cameron

www.cameronandco.events

If you dream of a career in food, come along to our friendly Open Evening on 5th June. As well as our full-time Diploma, we offer a range of flexible evening and online courses in everything from Nutrition, WSET Level 1: Award in Wines to starting a food business.

Share your Leiths memories using the #MadeAtLeiths hashtag.

Author: Ailie Bishop

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