The desire to become a chef seems to be born from an innate passion, because the work involved and the grit it takes to succeed is notoriously tough. Becoming an award-winning Chef on the other hand, that is an even tougher feat, and as part of the journey you must learn to swim in the deep end from day one.
Here at The Montagu Arms Hotel, in celebration of International Chef Day, we caught up with our Head Chef Matthew Tomkinson about why he loves being a chef, what, for him, has been the best experience and what advice he would give to aspiring chefs of today.
On your journey to become Head Chef what was your best working experience?
I gained my best experience from working at Ockenden Manor as Sous Chef, I was there for just over 4 years, I had an amazing time and I learned loads.
It was whilst he was at Ockenden Manor in West Sussex that Matt won the Roux Scholarship, the admired cooking competition for budding chefs under 30.
When you won your Roux Scholarship and took up your work placement in France, did you have to learn French on top of everything else?
I thought I could speak French when I went but I soon realised that wasn’t the case. I knew how to ask if you had a dog at home or if liked golf, rather than knowing any professional terms or language. As you can imagine, my understanding increased rapidly!
The Roux Scholarship pushed Matt further than he’d ever been pushed before and saw him head to south-west France to take up a life-changing work placement at Michel Guérard’s Les Prés d’Eugénie.
It’s a notoriously tough career choice, but what for you is the hardest part of the job?
Sometimes the hardest part is when you feel like you’re trying to keep a lot of different plates spinning all at once!
The sheer hard work and determination it takes must be a huge part, but what do you think it is about being a chef that makes it so prestigious?
I think a large part of the prestige comes from tradition. The ‘chef’ has always been held in high esteem, and food is intrinsically connected to everyday life. I think people sometimes struggle [with cooking] and are even scared of it.
In 2008 whilst head chef at The Goose in Britwell Salome in Oxfordshire, Matt won the first Michelin star of his career. Then, only one year later and only 6 months into his position as head chef at our very own Terrace Restaurant at The Montagu Arms Hotel, Matt won his second Michelin star.
What is it that you love about being a Chef and cooking food you love?
I love hospitality, looking after people and seeing them have a nice time.
International Chef Day aims to improve the education of children as well as to encourage chefs around the world to pass on their knowledge and culinary skills to the next generation of chefs, what one piece of advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
Find a great place to work, commit to it and then put your head down and work hard.
Matt’s career was inspired by a chef, and it was during their fishing trips where Matt’s friend’s stories of cooking planted a seed which led to Matt achieving his A-Levels and then a University Degree in Hospitality Management.
Is Head Chef always the goal when you begin your career?
I think you naturally end up running a kitchen as you progress through your career. There are lots of factors that influence that, including income and your own creative desires.
If you could have done anything differently on your journey to Head Chef, what would it have been?
I was lucky - I did A levels and then a degree in hospitality management so I wouldn’t change a thing.
If you could share your kitchen with another Chef for one night who would it be?
All the chefs that work at the Montagu Arms Hotel!
And lastly, if you couldn't be a chef, what else would you do?
I’d be the drummer in a band – because I spent the money my parents gave me for driving lessons on a drum kit!
There you have it, our award-winning Head Chef, and the aspiring drummer, always humble and ever passionate about hospitality and looking after his guests. Perhaps it’s the key to succeeding as a chef, not to just have passion for the food but to truly care about the people taking each bite.
The award-winning Terrace restaurant reflects Matt’s passion for food; growing it, producing it, sourcing it, cooking it - and eating it! The restaurant is open to residents and non-residents daily except for Mondays for lunch and dinner. Why not taste it for yourself?
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