Matt Worswick has joined Exclusive Hotels and Venues as Head Chef at the currently Michelin two starred The Latymer at Pennyhill Park, filling the vacancy left by the departing Michael Wignall. Matt has settled in very quickly, bringing his own personality and style to both food and dining experience. As he carries the restaurant forward Matt takes time to talk to Simon Carter and Daniel Darwood of fine-dining-guide about his past, present and future. Interview took place at Pennyhill Park in late July 2016.
Describe a particular moment when you realised being a chef was possibly your future?
I grew up in a terrace house in Liverpool, which certainly wasn’t an all apron strings and AGAs, making scones of a Sunday, type of lifestyle. Yes, there was solid, good home cooking on the food front but it wasn’t an obvious inspiration for a cooking career. It was when I visited my grandmother in the Isle of Man that I took a genuine interest in the creative side of food. She grew her own vegetables and in fact made her own sorbets (which was quite something back in the day), so it was my first exposure to such fresh and interesting food.
Initially, I responded to an ad in Caterer magazine for a kitchen job in Lancashire that said ‘no experience necessary’ so I thought “I could do that!” (laughing). I fell in love with the kitchen immediately – the fast pace and creativity – it was also a place where a big personality could breathe compared to an office (the latter was never for me!).
Tell us a summary of the most influencial aspects of your professional background.
For four years I worked for Kenny Atkinson at St Martin’s on the Isle in the Isles of Scilly, the restaurant gained a rising star, then a Michelin star a year later. A really positive experience, Kenny gave me proper training, mentoring and guidance, he looked after me really well and helped me grow up!
I then worked at a couple of places before spending two years working for David Everitt-Matthias at Le Champignon Sauvage as sous chef. This provided a real exposure to a different style of food, created in a no-hiding-place kitchen, working for one the great chefs this country has ever produced.
David thinks about food in a unique way and was a leader rather than follower of fashion, foraging as well as using lesser cuts, from the 1980s onwards. This was partly driven by his natural passion and partly through the practicalities of the recession of the early years. Generations ago great, great grandmothers would have known how to pick a hedgerow but that knowledge faded and became a lost art. Now it has come back in the UK and globally but partly through food fashion rather than necessity.
I would say that the best part of Le Champignon Sauvage experience as a chef is that you have to constantly see the big picture from prepping to cooking, from washing pots to creating dishes. In that situation you quickly learn your strengths and weaknesses and become more rounded as a chef quickly through necessity: Nothing like a large brigade kitchen where you might get lost in the mix, every minute at (Le) Champignon (Sauvage) you had to be on your game. David (Everitt-Matthias) provided finishing school for me before I too got my first head chef role and I like to think he remains a very good friend and mentor to this day.
At Glenapp Castle we were three chefs for 40 covers, breakfast, lunch and dinner, so again it was very tough. I was delighted that the (Michelin) star was awarded nine months after arriving as head chef at Glenapp (Castle).
How would you describe the experience for customers at Matt Worswick at The Latymer?
First of all Pennyhill Park is family owned and that feel extends to the whole Group including the management style at each property, this is something that makes it a very attractive place to work. It could easily be very corporate but it absolutely isn’t and with the MD’s twitter handle being @Foodhero (Danny Pecorelli) you can’t go wrong! (laughing)
The whole restaurant experience is wrapped at beginning and end by a visit from the kitchen (which will often be me) to introduce dishes. At the moment this is four dishes on the tasting menus: The snacks, lobster dish, tomato dish, sometimes pre-dessert and the petits fours. Nobody can explain the dish more passionately than the chefs themselves.
It’s also good to get customers’ feedback directly but in addition answer any questions they may have about the food. I want the restaurant to be fit for a special occasion but a relaxed and accessible one; if we know it is someone’s anniversary then it’s on the briefing and the kitchen will know so I will engage with customers accordingly and hope through that they enjoy their occasion to the best level that we can provide!
How would you describe your style as a chef in terms of kitchen team management?
Developing a dish is very much a team effort. I will always listen to the team and analyse whether an idea is suitable for the season and suitable for the restaurant. I’m not a fan of describing a style as the objective is simple – a potential dish for the menu must taste great and be an enjoyable experience to eat! Yes much of it is classical with influences from the UK and elsewhere but I will stick to a certain end product that fits with my cooking personality.
I do drive the menu but simply for the practical reason that I have the most experience! If everybody has a say then everybody has a sense of ownership then everybody cares so everybody is motivated. It makes sense to manage the team that way.
What do you think of the recent trend of tasting menus in top end restaurants?
It is a valid format for a dining experience but you have to assess your market, for each restaurant it is different, for us it works well.
The diner gets properly immersed in fine dining if they come and enjoy the full ten courses with the enhanced, showcased service. We serve two lunches and five dinners per week and have exclusively tasting menus here so a brigade of ten chefs is ideal to deliver the high quality and consistent offerings that we are aiming for with our customers.
Would you say you have any particular signature dishes?
I’m really pleased with all the dishes across the menus but at the moment the Celeriac and Octopus dishes probably stand out. Perhaps any dish could be on for as long as seasonally possible but a few will last the test of time and therefore qualify as signatures.
Are you an active social media participant and what do you think of twitter, facebook and Instagram?
Yes absolutely active across social media. It happens to be free but you have to be sensible and careful! I believe it’s great for getting your message out there as well as assisting recruitment, networking in the industry and making contacts.
Yes it can be detrimental in the wrong hands but I think I’m sensible and understand that I work within a Group where there is a brand to protect and enhance. I try and make my account personal to make it more appealing, for example pictures of developing dishes as part of a day-in-the-life in a top end restaurant.
What do you think of Trip Advisor?
Its not so much what I think of Trip Advisor but more about customers and getting as many happy ones as possible!
If a customer comes and I get a good review on Trip Advisor then yes I’m pleased – not pleased with Trip Advisor but pleased with the happy customer. Likewise for a poor review I would not be unhappy with Trip Advisor it would be about what went wrong with that customer experience.
It’s a hot topic and people talk about it to the point that it may affect whether people come to a restaurant. We’re in the hospitality industry so we have to take note of what is on that site but at the same time I don’t have the energy to argue or get angry on social media should the results not be to my liking.
Overall sites like Trip Advisor and OpenTable (via the customers in the restaurant) are potentially good platforms but we understand that the websites are still relatively young so some processes may become clearer, for example reality checks to ensure genuine reviews. I like to focus on making happy customers by evolving a consistent, high quality offering and then those sites tend to take care of themselves in a positive cycle.
What are your views on the ‘Guides’ – Michelin, GFG, AA?
Overall they are a benchmark, they give you recognition and a platform. Do I sleep well the night before the annual Michelin announcements? No, not really, but more excitement than anything else, the prospect of being in that band of chefs with such accolades is definitely exciting. Yes they do matter. I put it this way, if my great, great, great grandson decides to be a chef and looks me up, these guides will position what was achieved and hopefully make them proud.
Which other chefs do you most admire and why?
David Everitt-Matthias is inspirational in so many ways, not just for his talents as a great chef’s chef but also for his dedication, he has never missed a service and that’s been going on for approaching 30 years.
What are your plans for the future?
Refurbishment for the restaurant for the turn of the year and make it a little more colourful, to reflect my personality. I also wish to keep a happy team growing with me into the future and looking forward to what the next day brings.