A move to Scotland followed, to begin a role as head chef at Glenapp Castle on the Ayrshire coast of West Scotland. Aged just twenty-six, he held the restaurant’s Michelin star. He told us: ‘My food there was heavily influenced by David Everitt-Matthias. We were in the countryside and it was hard to get supplies, but we had our own kitchen garden which was quite nice. We had wild mushrooms, but here we were foraging because we needed it, because it was a necessity. The food was classical, as we were inside a castle, but we updated it a bit, gave it a twist.’
In 2014, returning to the region of his birth, he took responsibility for the kitchens at Thornton Hall Hotel and Spa, on The Wirral. Here he was charged with improving what was already an excellent kitchen, with three AA rosettes. His menu at the hotel included delicate starters such as Scallops with leek and dill, alongside richer offerings like Fois gras parfait with apricot and chamomile granola. Hearty mains ranged from Roast wood pigeon with black pudding and baby beets to Seared sea bass with salt-baked heritage carrots. Luscious desserts of Chocolate aero, dark chocolate mousse and salted caramel and Gariguette strawberry and vanilla parfait rounded out the meals.
He told us: ‘I’m big and Northern, and I think that comes through in the style of food. No thrills, but just great, great flavours. I’m not here to baffle people with the food that I’m doing. We’re just trying to make the restaurant as busy as possible and get the quality through the roof. My food shouts out its flavour and it can be quite rich. I’ve been to places where there’s eighteen things on the plate and you’re trying to work out which flavours go together. People who eat in my restaurant will know what they’re eating, without even reading the menu. Really bold, hearty flavours. That’s the way I work and I think that’s the way David [Everitt-Matthias] works as well. The food should be able to speak for itself. I’ve trained in some great places, so it’s not just about sticking simple food on the menu. It’s difficult to make something elegant, bold and delicious, but I’ve been doing it long enough now, so hopefully I’ve mastered it!’
His 2015 appearance on Great British Menu saw him draw on the influences of his youth. He told us: ‘My grandmother was in the WI for ten years and my first exposure to decent homemade food came through her. She used to make this sorbet – it was an explosion of flavours and I can still remember it now. She had a recipe book that she made, her housewife recipe book. I used that book as a reference for each of the dishes – it epitomises the whole brief, I didn’t have to look too far for inspiration. Great British Menu was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve done a few competitions before, but I really loved this whole process and the planning – trying to push yourself and see how far you can go. Plus you’re cooking in front of 1.8 million people, which makes it even more interesting. It’s certainly very exciting and nerve-racking.’
We asked Matt what he still loves about cooking and about the hospitality industry: ‘You’ve got such a vast array of ingredients now, more than ever, with great, local suppliers coming through. I love the hospitality industry, I don’t just love cooking, I love eating as well. That’s why I keep having to go to the gym, because I love eating out. I love going to a bistro or a pub or a restaurant. All the main life events – whether it’s a funeral, a wedding, a christening, a birthday, there’s always food involved. I love the whole idea of a celebration and how it ties in with food. If you can embrace that and teach that to young people as well – train them up and see them go off and do really well – that’s the thing that's exciting now.’
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