Carl Clarke: Career Profile

Carl Clarke fell into hospitality at the age of 15 and DJ'd for several years before returning with a new approach to being a chef

Pop-up restaurant veteran Carl Clarke fell into a career in hospitality at the age of 15, working as a chef in hotels and the military before ditching it all to become a world-famous DJ. He returned to cooking in the 1990s, working for Marco Pierre White, U2 and Simon Rogan before launching his pop-up restaurant business, which has included the pop-ups Rock Lobsta, God Save the Clam and Disco Bistro.

How I got to where I am now: 

I ran away from Birmingham with a friend when I was 15. We borrowed some money off his brother and we got a boat to where we thought was France, but turned out to be Jersey. My friend spent all our money getting drunk on the ferry on the way there, so when we arrived I thought I'd go looking for a job to get us some money. I saw this big hotel - it was the Grand Jersey Hotel - and I thought 'I'm going to get a job', so I went in and spoke to this big Austrian guy who was a chef, asked him for a job and he offered me one. I spent the next six months turning potatoes in a room, sneaking out beetroot sandwiches to my mate and that was the start of my career in hospitality. I was about there for about two years before going into the Royal Marines where I cooked for six years. 

When I left the military I went into the family business (Clarke's family owned Turnmills nightclub in London) and I started a career DJing. I really enjoyed that, travelling and getting paid for raving.

Then, coming to the end of that rave period I went back into cooking and got a job as a chef de partie with Marco Pierre White at The Belvedere. I ended up being head chef for U2 at The Clarence Hotel in Dublin, executive chef at Harvey Nichols in Istanbul and then did a few stages, including one at Roganic, which was a bit of a turning point for me. I knew that I wanted to do something different by then.

I'd done Rock Lobsta and before Roganic and I'd helped Bistrotheque with a couple of their pop-up projects and I thought 'I'm going to do this'. I had the name Disco Bistro already and met David (Wolanski, Clarke's business partner) who was looking to do something. We'd done the Latitude festival for Jonathan Downey and catered for 7,000 people in three days in a field and decided to go for it and do something a bit different, so we went on to run God Save the Clam, Invaders Must Die and Disco Bistro.

We had Disco Bistro at the Rising Sun in London for six months, before it went to the roller rink (Skate) at King's Cross. That finished at the end of the summer and now it's time to push forward with Disco Bistro. I want to find a permanent site for it in East London. We're looking now and are trying to find the right investors for it. We are beyond the stage of just moving it to different sites and we want to do something more permanent, that still has the soul of Disco Bistro, but can build a bit of community around it. 

My biggest challenge: 

Trying to pay the bills. That and switching careers. I was earning £2,000 a week while I was DJing and then when I went back to cooking I was earning £200 a week.  In between all that I had a daughter and so it was a challenge to go back to working for a living again, but that was a long time ago and you do it. Somehow you get through. We are now serious about making some money with Disco Bistro and I've got an agent so I'm busy now and finally making some money. 

My greatest achievement: 

Being alive. I was also in the power 1,000 list this year. Seriously, my achievement is making people happy, I'm not chasing any accolades. 

My tips for success: 

Make people smile, make people happy and the rest will follow. If you're good at what you do and you believe in what you do you'll be a success. I'm not interested in bourgeois fine-dining, I think it's dated. This is the new generation of cooking. I love what James Lowe (Upstairs at the Ten Bells) and the guys at the Clove Club are doing. It's all relaxed and all about soul. That's what's important. The generation of kids going out now, that's what they want. They don't want to go to a fancy restaurant, so do what you believe in and have some fun and you'll get there. 

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