Acme Fire Cult
Pilot Light mental health charity
Chef Andrew Clarke is always keen to challenge perceptions. Although he has the look and reputation for cooking barbecued meats, he has become known for creating delicate, vegetable-forward dishes in the latter part of his chef career. His East London live-fire restaurant, Acme Fire Cult, is a unique and revolutionary concept within the London restaurant scene.
Andrew founded the mental health charity Pilot Light, created to support those struggling in the catering industry. He is also a shaman and rock guitarist.
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In 2021, Andrew founded Acme Fire Cult with chef Daniel Watkins after a hugely successful residency at London Fields Courtyard in Hackney. Acme Fire Cult is a live-fire concept with a focus on vegetables; taking a supporting role are regeneratively-farmed native breed meats and day-boat fish. Their inspiration is pulled from around the globe, evident in their grilling and fermentation techniques as well as their heavy use of chilli and spices.
Jay Rayner described Acme Fire Cult’s food as ‘a demonstration of the virtuous interplay of the best vegetables and the most acutely managed indirect heat and smoke’. Time Out, which gave the restaurant four stars, called it ‘an ingeniously creative and thrilling veg-heavy charred menu’.
Andrew was initially a reluctant chef, who first stepped into the kitchen to earn enough money to support his music. But his rock guitarist career eventually made way for Andrew’s new passion for food. After working in a few local restaurants, Andrew’s real culinary journey started at The Swan in West Malling, Kent. There, his eyes were opened to local produce, farming and foraging, hunting and butchery. Andrew rose through the ranks to become Head Chef before moving on to London.
Andrew next staged with Marco Pierre White, St John, Wild Honey, Arbutus and The Square, until he settled at the Anchor & Hope, all the while heading up bespoke catering events on the side. His next post was Head Chef of Salt Yard, the Italian-Spanish tapas restaurant on Goodge Street. Whilst working there, he set up a Louisiana-style food pop-up called Fleur de Lys. Although short-lived, its reputation stood out to the team behind Rita’s Bar & Dining, who approached him about helping them set up their first restaurant. Rita’s opened in Hackney in 2013 and received much praise from Giles Coren (The Times) Faye Maschler (Evening Standard) and John Walsh (Independent).
At the beginning of 2016, Andrew became Chef Director at Brunswick House. This brought him to the attention once again of Fay Maschler, as well as A.A. Gill and Jay Rayner – who loved the place so much, he asked to celebrate his 50th birthday there.
Andrew next became Chef Director of the London restaurant St Leonards, which opened in 2018 with great anticipation and support from the London restaurant critics. His menu had a fire and ice theme, with an ice bar for raw fish and an open-hearth fire and spit for cooking meat and vegetables.
Andrew is a prominent face at Meatopia and curates Glandstonbury: London’s annual offal festival.
In 2019, Andrew was honoured to receive the Innovation Award at the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards. He was particularly humbled, as it was the only award of the night voted for by the other attending professional chefs.
Andrew is the founder of Pilot Light, a charity he created to support people in the catering industry struggling with mental health issues. Andrew particularly wanted to encourage young men to feel comfortable communicating their mental health concerns in a safe and supportive way.
Andrew continues to support his community as a trained Shaman, running weekly sessions of meditation and music as a form of connecting to spiritual wisdom and healing. He also continues to play guitar in a heavy metal band whenever the opportunity arises.