The smell. It’s the first thing you notice as you open the very unpretentious little white door at the back of Purple Menswear in Harpenden in the county of Hertfordshire. The smell, is sweet mixed with the powerful scent of fresh coffee beans and the very slight hint of mens aftershave. Closing the door you’re greeted by a small, clean, white space perfectly balanced with a vintage mirror and small bar. There, sitting on one of the stools tapping away at his laptop is the man we’re here to see, dressed in a freshly pressed casual shirt/tee combo, white converse and a simple pair of jeans. To look at him you’d mistake him for a customer of this boutique café, but you’d be wrong. Who you’re actually looking at is not only the owner of Eight Ounce & Sweet, you’re also looking at one of the most talented pastry chefs the UK has to offer. He is a man who was spotted by one of the examiners at college (Lisa Crowe) during his final exams at Westminster College studying catering, which led to a job with her at Foliage in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. He has gone on to work under the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jason Atherton, Josh Emett and Tony Fleming, and with that has worked all across the world, taking his talents from London to New York to Melbourne and back again – this man is Mr.Daniel Fletcher.
His small, but well decorated café in the heart of Harpenden first came to our attention when he opened in 2019, no fanfare, no press campaign, no marketing, no celebs posting on instagram, the doors simply opened, coffee was served and some of the best cakes and pastries of your life accompany that coffee. Being a resident of Harpenden, when something new opens up in the area the news flies around like wild-fire, the song ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ comes to mind… So I hot-footed it down there as if my ass was on fire and upon arrival I’m happy to say I wasn’t let down. In fact I was somewhat jealous. This man, had created, what I considered, the perfect coffee shop, simple elegance partnered with a slight DIY factor which allowed Daniel’s ‘coffee & sweet’ to speak for itself. As I sat sipping at my flat white and gorging myself on a peanut butter cookie cup – If heaven exists and has a taste, this is it! – I found myself pondering how someone could create something so perfectly balanced – all from his house kitchen might I add – something that wasn’t overly sickly and had an actual flavour profile, surely I thought this man has to be some kind of wizard. Little did I know that the tall man serving me behind the coffee bar was in fact the creator of this mouthful of bliss. At the time I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t aware of his background. We talked, as you tend to do in independent places and I quickly learned his story which led to me liking him even more. Why? Because its very rare that the masses get to consume what is considered to be truly great food and here was Mr.Fletcher doing exactly that. Never shouting about who he was or who he’s worked for. He has one goal, to serve great coffee and pastry to the local community.
To say Daniel Fletcher is talented would be an understatement, his ability is a gift and one that the world needs to taste. From high flying restaurants across the world to a little town in Hertfordshire, we sat down with Daniel to talk all things pastry, kitchens and what’s next for his project.
Mr.Fletcher, how are you? For those of us who aren’t familiar with you could you give us a brief run down of who you are and what you do?
Im a professional pastry chef with 20 years experience in the industry having worked in London, New York and Melbourne in various 5star hotels and michelin starred restaurants as well as spending 3 years working for M&S as the dessert product developer. I now have my own consultancy business where I work with restaurants, hotels and the retail sector with menu development, staff training and implementation.
So, let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into working in kitchens in the first place? Did you always love baking?
It all started for me as an inquisitive 4year old baking with my Nan, I used to sit up on the table and help her make cakes and was just drawn to it from an early age. During my time at secondary school I took up home economics which led to 2 weeks work experience at a local country house hotel. I was hooked from there and applied to catering college in Westminster following a recommendation from my teacher and did a 3 year NVQ level 1,2 and 3 course with an additional professional chefs diploma. In the first 2 years you work in all areas of the kitchen but in the 3rd year you specialise in either kitchen or pastry, I was drawn to the pastry and felt more comfortable in that environment so that was it. I was lucky enough to have Lisa Crowe from the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge as my external examiner for my final practical exam which led to a trial with her pastry team and I was offered a job and I would end up spending 4 years there as it was a great place to learn.
I had two dreams as a young chef and they were to work in New York and to work for GordonDaniel Fletcher
Your career is, well, impressive to say the very least. You’ve worked for both Jason Atherton & Gordon Ramsay tell us a little bit about those times in your career?
I had two dreams as a young chef and they were to work in New York and to work for Gordon so I was lucky enough to kill to birds with one stone! Gordon at the time of me joining the team was the biggest chef in the UK and had an ever growing empire and had more Michelin stars than any other chef so it was a great time to be working within the company. I had a close friend working out in NYC and was part of the opening team, the Pastry chef and sous chef had resigned so he contacted me as he had told Josh Emett about me and I was invited out to do a trial. I spent a day in the kitchen with the team and was asked that afternoon to come up with a dish, it was well received and I was offered a job. Having spent a year in New York I came back to London and worked with Jason Atherton at Maze for 6 months to learn both the Maze and Maze Grill concepts as I had been asked by Josh to go out with him to head up the pastry team for the opening of both restaurants in Melbourne. About 18 months after my return to London I reunited with Jason as Executive Pastry chef for his ever growing restaurant empire. I headed up the opening team for City Social, it was my 3rd straight opening and to be honest left me a little burnt out.
Was it always the goal to work in Michelin star kitchens and 5* hotels?
I think it’s the same for most people who have a passion for there craft they always want to learn from the best and I have been lucky to have worked with some amazing chefs, I have always tried to learn as much as I can form a job and when I felt it was time for a new experience I moved on. The only way I can describe it is if you were a footballer and you had the chance to play for an amazing coach, say Mourinho/Guardiola/Klopp at different stages of your career you wouldn’t turn them down. If you want to get to the highest level in cooking these are the kind of establishments you will find these people in and where for me you will gain the most experience.
What did a normal day look like for you in those kitchens?
A lot of hours! A typical day would be starting around 8am and getting prepped for lunch service, finishing up around 3pm and grabbing a quick 30 mins break for some food then back in the kitchen getting set for dinner service which would typically finish around 11-11.30. Clean down and place your orders for the following day and leave around 12-12.30 back home to bed and then up the next day to do it all over again.
Working in those environments couldn’t have been easy? Do you have any particular good/bad stories from those times? And what did you learn from that situation?
I have lots of bad stories where I have been on the receiving end but also dishing it out, the kitchen is a high pressured environment but I have always maintained that anything that happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen. Once its done its forgotten about, when you are working all these hours you build up a relationship with your colleagues and they are like your family, you are only as strong as your team. I have learnt that as a leader you need to lead by example, treat everyone fairly and the same, I don’t expect anyone to do a job I wouldn’t do myself.
You started your fantastic little coffee shop 8oz Coffee and pastry section called SWEET in Harpenden, Hertfordshire in 2019 of which we are huge fans as you know. What was the inspiration behind that? And why did you decide to house it in Purple Menswear?
I have wanted my own little café bakery for a long time now and this is a perfect spot for me to try and build my brand and test the market to see if there is a demand for what I am offering. I am from the area so this is my kind of homecoming where I am settling down with my family with the aim of setting up a successful business. Eight ounce coffee source great coffee and the owner of Purple Paul has a very similar vision to me in terms of offering a great product. We have built a good relationship and hope to do more together in the future.
Something a little less serious. You’re on a desert island and you can only have one dessert, what is it & why?
Rum Baba as it would be a great match to the weather and also as its loaded with rum and would definitely put a smile on my face!!
Favourite dish to make?
Apple Tarte Tatin, it’s a classic but if made properly it cant be beaten.
Favourite wine & Favourite aftershave?
Favourite wine – Nero d’Avola as I’m a big fan of Italian wines.
Aftershave – Hermes Voyage d’Hermes
And to finish, you’ve obviously had an amazing career but do you have any regrets?
As much as a cliché I wouldn’t be where I am today and doing what I am if I hadn’t had these past experiences, my only regret is not having the chance to stay in New York for longer as my wife and I had issues with our Visas so we had to leave after a year so it wasn’t on our terms but looking back if we hadn’t have left we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to Melbourne so I do believe everything happens for a reason.
Visit Eight Ounce: 33B High St, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, AL5 2RU
Follow Daniel on Instagram: @DanielFletcherSweet