It was fishing trips with a friend that sparked Matthew Tomkinson’s desire to be a chef. When his fishing companion – a chef at a small French restaurant – told him about his job and what he was cooking, it captured his imagination: “I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” A-levels followed and then, on the insistence of his parents, university. Still convinced that cheffing was for him, he opted for Hospitality Management. During his placement year he secured an apprentice-chef position at a pub – most other students chose graduate management positions in large hotels – which he “absolutely loved”. A year at The Greenhouse (a vegetarian restaurant in Cheshire) followed, during which time he began to broaden his understanding of ingredients – particularly vegetables – and how to best to reflect their individual merits.
His next significant position was at Simply Nico in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, near London. Allured by a menu filled with French terms he didn’t understand, he loved the atmosphere, friendship, food and attention to detail, describing his head chef there, Craig Gray, as “just fantastic”. From there he moved on to Michelin starred Ockenden Manor in West Sussex, working under Stephen Crane whom he credits with helping him get where he is today.
During his four years there he won the Roux Scholarship – a prestigious cooking competition for promising chefs under 30, with the winner taking up a stage at a three-star restaurant of their choice. Describing the competition as his “biggest challenge” he says that taking part made him read, learn, discover, try and test, and instilled in him the importance of hospitality, of making the guest feel welcomed, cared for and appreciated. The Roux family advised him to take up his work placement at Michel Guérard’s Les Prés d’Eugénie in south-west France, which Matthew Tomkinson describes as “an inspired choice”. He goes on: “The whole experience was like going to university. It was real life – sink or swim.”
He then joined The Goose in Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire, as head chef, winning his first Michelin star in 2008, not long after arriving. His French-influenced, modern British food featured carefully sourced local ingredients in dishes such as Royal Balmoral venison with Sarladaise potatoes, glazed chestnuts, buttered curly kale and sauce Grand Veneur, and Grilled escallop of wild Scottish halibut with caramelised salsify, crispy potato, wild mushrooms and cep sauce. Desserts included offerings such as Warm pistachio cake with Yorkshire rhubarb sorbet, lime cream and ginger syrup.