Leaving in 2005 for a long-planned trip to Australia, he spent a year travelling the country, during which time he spent a painful couple of weeks vegetable picking. This experience instilled in him a real respect for the patience, dexterity and hard labour involved in producing fresh foodstuffs. Returning from Australia in 2006, he started working at South Lodge Hotel in Sussex, where he remained for the next ten years. In 2008 he moved from the hotel’s Camelia restaurant into a purpose-built extension to head up The Pass – a twenty-two cover restaurant with eleven chef’s tables, each inside the kitchen, eating the chef’s tasting menus. The chefs deliver the food to the tables, right there on hand to explain the thinking and inspiration behind every technique and ingredient. In 2011 Matt received his first Michelin star, as well as 4 AA rosettes and 7/10 in the Good Food Guide, the latter describing his offerings as 'small plates of phenomenally dynamic food … What arrives is inventive, clever and full of flavour.' The dishes at The Pass change very regularly, but his Duck breast salad with burnt coconut, pineapple and cashews or Steamed duck leg with glazed carrots, lemon and turnip show his style well.
When pushed to describe his style of food, he reluctantly sums it up as 'progressively British', but with the caveat that 'we do take influences from everywhere'. He elaborates: 'To me it’s whatever excites me really. I like something a bit unusual to feature in a dish, a new ingredient that I, or a lot of people, haven’t seen before.' His dishes are neither traditionally French nor British; instead, they couple the styles of multiple food cultures with both classical technique and modern technology, taking the best various countries have to offer and presenting them in a new way.
Matt's food is certainly guided by the British seasons. 'I need a restriction just to keep me on track, otherwise you could go crazy,' he told us. 'I need lemons, I need chocolate, I need limes, pineapples, all these things, so I’m not going to restrict myself in that sense, but yes, influenced by the British calendar.'
It is his powerful drive to learn, to explore the very best of technique wherever he finds it and to produce creative, beautiful, mouth-watering, thoughtful dishes that separates Matt Gillan from many other chefs. 'It just goes back to being interested,' he says. 'I’m always interested in learning.'
In April 2016, Matt left The Pass to seek out new ventures. Watch this space for future updates on what he has planned for the future.