David Everitt-Matthias

David Everitt-Matthias

Known as ‘the chef’s chef’, David Everitt-Matthias has been quietly cooking at the top of his game for more than 25 years – never missing a service – with the restaurant he runs with his wife holding two Michelin stars since 2000. A long-time enthusiast for the seasonal bounty that forests and hedgerows yield, he featured foraged edibles in his menus long before that was fashionable.

David Everitt-Matthias was inspired to work as a chef by his Aunt Pat, who took him foraging on Wandsworth Common in London from the age of six. Having learnt from her mother, she introduced him to a magical world of hedgerow picking – sparking a lifelong interest in food and an enduring relationship with nature’s wild bounty. It was during this happy childhood cooking with her – he credits her with teaching him about flavours – that he decided he wanted to be a chef, aged only seven or eight.

His career began in 1978 at the Four Seasons (formerly Inn on the Park) in his home city of London, under legendary French chef Jean Michel Bonin. Working there for five years, slowly gaining recognition for his skills, he says this experience taught him about organisation and discipline – skills which were paramount in this high-pressure environment where a banquet for 600 was not uncommon in the middle of dinner service.

A stage at Pierre Koffmann’s La Tante Claire opened his eyes to the freedom that cooking in a restaurant can bring (in comparison to the rigid hotel environment he was then immersed in) and he was enchanted by Koffmann’s completely different take on food and his treatment of humble ingredients. Whereas the Four Seasons was focused on luxury, Koffmann’s cooking took less appreciated meats, like tripe and pig’s trotters, and transformed them into a gastronomic meal. To this eighteen-year-old apprentice chef, this was cooking “at its purest” and this experience was hugely influential in his developing career.

His heart already set on opening his own restaurant, he left the Four Seasons in 1987 and focused on gaining experience in a variety of different kitchens. Keen to explore which direction he should take his career in, he took three head chef positions, in three very different restaurants: Steamer’s, a Seychelles fish restaurant; The Grand Café with its American brasserie fayre; and Fingals, a small, thriving fine-dining eatery on the fashionable Fulham Road where David Everitt-Matthias found his niche and made his name. He told The Staff Canteen: “That is when, for certain, I knew that was the line I wanted to go down.”

Married two years earlier, after meeting at the Four Seasons where Helen worked front of house, the couple moved to Cheltenham Spa in the Cotswolds to open their dream restaurant in 1987. David Everitt-Matthias has not missed a service since. Aged only 26, with Helen just 24, they knew little about how to run a business and would have gone under during the 1990s recession had it not been for enlightened bank officials who saw their enthusiasm and agreed to back them. Informed by this experience, they have since been very careful with expansion, saving for developments rather than borrowing; it took them eighteen years to assemble the funds to buy the property next door and expand their covers from 28 to 40.

Yet over the years the pair have established the restaurant as one of Britain’s best, winning a legion of awards including two Michelin stars, 4 AA rosettes and 8/10 in the Good Food Guide – currently listed as one of the top ten restaurants in Britain, according to the Guide. Often described as “a chef’s chef” Brett Graham of The Ledbury has said of Everitt-Matthias: “He has reached a level very few chefs ever achieve in their careers.”

Solidly grounded in the French classical technique of his professional training, his style has evolved over the years, remaining current without pandering to passing trends. He speaks of the freedom, relief and sense of purpose that came with developing his own style of cooking, when he turned his back on mirroring the Raymond Blancs of this world and became his own man.

The menu changes frequently with the passing seasons and he is renowned for his creative use of local ingredients, with The Good Food Guide describing him as having “an enviable, unchallenged reputation for garnering faultless raw materials at their seasonal peak”. Despite his roots in traditional French haute cuisine, he is not reluctant to experiment with new ingredients – a packet of lotus seeds from the local Asian supermarket ending up roasted, ground and blended into a beautiful caramel-mocha-chicory flavoured ice cream, for example.

Building on the family education of his youth, David Everitt-Matthias isrecognised for his astute use of foraged edibles – long before this was de rigeur – with his wife Helen and many of their staff collecting the bulk of this themselves. Marina O’Loughlin in The Guardian comments: “Dishes feature fungi and foraged leaves – fleshy little stonecrop, or tart sorrel – but all add something rather than simply box-ticking a trend.” His treatment of the springtime favourite, wild garlic, shows his accomplished technique as well as the exciting possibilities these unusual ingredients offer. Speaking to the Gloucestershire Echo he said: “We use all of the plant at the restaurant, the tiny first shoots, the full leaves, the flowers, the roots and the seed pods … The young shoots are great just sprinkled in a salad, as are the flowers – adding a hint of garlic, as well as a delicate and attractive finish to a dish. We will be using the larger leaves for a potato and wild garlic soup. That just leaves the roots, which at the end of the season can be picked, scraped clean, washed and used to flavour stews, or blanched a few times in a few changes of water, then caramelised in a little butter and served as an accompaniment to roasted lamb or a braised beef dish.”

The championing of cheaper, less valued ingredients – inspired by his early stage with Pierre Koffmann and born out of necessity during the recession – remains a constant theme in his menus and although more expensive additions now feature, they are used with a light touch. Capturing the complete essence of individual ingredients, his flavours are intense, bold and complex, yet still matched harmoniously by a highly skilful palate.

David Everitt-Matthias has also written three influential cookbooks, admired by professionals and amateurs alike. The first book, Essence, which was strongly inspired by his passion for wild food, was published in 2006 to great critical acclaim. The second, Dessert, which offered insight into his highly original take on the art of pastry, was released in 2009. A third book, Beyond Essence, which draws inspiration from global ingredients and techniques and tracks the marked evolution of his food in the seven years since Essence was released, came in 2013. The Bookseller says of his books: “Everitt-Matthias is that rare thing: a perfectionist with the patience and ability to teach.”

Respected worldwide, David Everitt-Matthias is less well known in the UK as he opts to stay behind the stove rather than pursue a television career. Yet he is still repeatedly recognised by those in the know for his outstanding contribution to British gastronomy. Celebrating his great talent, Jay Rayner encapsulates his appeal: “One of Britain's greatest chefs, in charge of one of Britain’s greatest restaurants, just wants to be in the kitchen. How refreshing.”