Eight years ago in the back of a van, Danny Cheetham made a promise to open a restaurant one day.
Today he is head chef and one-quarter owner of the White Rabbit, Dalston’s hip, modern eatery down Bradbury street.
“It’s something we always joke about. There I was, on tour as a photographer for a punk band. I was wasted in the back of this truck with the bassist Adam, and I said to him I wanted to open a restaurant. Years later, here we are, running a restaurant together.”
That bassist was Adam Dean, a carpenter by trade who is behind the Rabbit’s multiform aesthetic. Together with Mark Shaffer (Cheetham’s former boss and owner of The Macbeth in Hoxton) and John Dolan – friend, builder and rescuer when the place needed a cash injection – they form the White Rabbit’s, er, ‘bromantical’ partnership.
Being a chef was not Cheetham’s life-long aspiration; he always wanted to be ‘a creative’. But when the digital wave came through and changed the way budgets were drawn and photographers like himself were paid, Cheetham’s career path began to take off in a different direction.
Working intermittently, he ended up taking jobs when and where he could, but wasn’t progressing the way he had hoped. During periods of unemployment, he spent a lot time in the kitchen.
“I wasn’t working that much, but I was cooking loads. I was living with my girlfriend at the time, who basically told me, ‘You’re making me fat. Get a job in a kitchen, or get out.'”
It was a terrible job. He spent two months scrubbing away filthy kitchen grime for a pittance, stuck under an evil boss. His ‘big break’ came as the head chef was abruptly fired, and Cheetham was suddenly in charge of running the kitchen – without much of a clue.
It was not exactly a happy time, but despite the dysfunctionality of the whole experience, it was the momentum Cheetham needed to realise he wanted to be a proper chef – and keep good on that drunken promise.
Once the other three were on board, Cheetham went on to spend the next two years training in well-respected kitchens, including La Vie en Rose in Broadway Market and Gordon Ramsay’s in Chelsea.
The White Rabbit has only just celebrated its first half birthday, but has gathered a loyal local following in these six months.
Cheetham looks up, twisting left and then right, to take a look around the place he and his mates have created before shrugging his shoulders, leaning back and coolly saying: “Yeah, it’s going well.” He tries to appear blasé but judging by his smile, he must be quite proud of where he sits today.
The clock has just struck two. It hangs above a bar adorned with a dramatic vase of fragrant white flowers, juxtaposed to a set of vintage turntables. The crackle from the open kitchen’s wood fire is gently audible and there is a faint clatter of plates and light chatter from the few tables of late lunchers.
Everything is in its right place for Cheetham:
“I might not have ended up being a photographer, but I feel that there is actually a lot of creativity to working with food – you’re required to think outside of the box. That’s what drives me.
“At the end of the day, I’m doing what I love and I’m doing it with my mates. It’s pretty good.”