Matt Edmonds, head chef, Searcys, The Gherkin

The  Staff Canteen
Matt Edmonds is the head chef at Searcys, The Gherkin London. The 31-year-old took over the flag ship site for Searcys fine dining Private Members restaurant, and events, in 2013. He brought with him modern British dishes with French influences. Matt boasts an impressive CV, working for numerous Michelin starred chefs and restaurants including Michael Wignall at the Latymer restaurant at Penny Hill Park hotel, Une Table Au Sud in Marseille France with chef Lionel Levy and Artelier Amora in Poland; the only restaurant in the country to hold a Michelin star.Searcys The Staff Canteen spoke to Matt about life at the Gherkin, sourcing ingredients in London and one day owning a pub. What made you pursue a career as a chef? I’ve always had a love of food! My granddad was a dairy farmer in Hampshire so every time we went to my nan’s at the weekend it was always great, humble food, like stews. Then when I was 13 I started washing up at The Spread Eagle in Midhurst working for Michelin starred chef Steve Crane. When I was 16, I finished school straight away and did my two year apprenticeship under Steve. During my time there we won three rosettes which was nice. Steve Crane was obviously a big influence, did he inspire you to aim high? Yeah, he used to make sure that when you looked at your food it was never good enough so you were constantly changing it, doing more and more and making sure it was better. He was good like that - it was hard as a young chef getting absolutely mullered, that was quite tough but it paid dividends. Then you start thinking about Michelin stars which is always a big drive. Everywhere I went after that wasn’t as good - so I pushed and pushed and pushed to make it work. When you were 24 you headed to London as a junior sous at the RAC club on Pall Mall, what was that like? Chicken dish 2It’s basically like a 5 star hotel, so you had your fine dining restaurant, your banqueting and your brasserie so it was the same. But it was London so it was my first step in and I did the busy period of Christmas and then I went back to hotels after that. You moved on to Mandeville Hotel in Wigmore Street and six months after taking over you got two rosettes and Michelin accreditation. What was that like, was it quite a proud moment? Yes it was, it was obviously really nice getting two rosettes and then we got accredited by Michelin. Just to be noted in the guides it was massive it was a really happy day - I really admire the guides. Obviously the bottom line is we’re a business we have to make money if the accolades come along then that’s fantastic. You don’t obviously cook for it but you aim for a standard and it’s tough. Those accolades were good for the team and it was exciting times. How did your role at the Gherkin come about? I knew the head chef there was leaving, I did all my cook-offs and I have been here for a year and a half now. It just came up at the right time and it’s such an iconic building. Before you took over the Gherkin you did a bit of travelling. Yes, in 2011 I was asked to go to New Delhi and cook at the Basmati of the World conference representing the UK showing modern ways of using rice. That was fantastic, it was a bit overwhelming as I’m not used to going around like the other chefs, I felt I didn’t really belong there as I wasn’t a star chef or anything. It was a bit weird but it was great, experiencing the different cultures and seeing what they do and how they cook.Salmon dish 2 You spent some time in France as well didn’t you? I worked with chef Lionel Levy. I met him in India and did a stage with him - in France it’s all about your ingredients and your products. You see what they’re doing in the markets, you get it and bring it back – I wish we could do that in London with our central markets but obviously it doesn’t work here. In France you can literally walk to the harbour, pick up some fish and take it to the restaurant and do something with it. How do you get around that in London? Gaining trust in your suppliers. I’m from the south coast so I’m used to working closely with local suppliers and getting the most out of them. Here it’s gaining a good relationship with the Covent Garden suppliers knowing that you are going to get quality. I’ve got a great butcher from the Lake District called Lake District Farmers and the meat is phenomenal. They’re a small company and they choose the restaurants they supply to. They supply Ramsay’s, Murano, Brett Graham at The Ledbury. They pick who they want and we’re lucky to have them here. They’re fantastic, and I love working for passionate suppliers like that; it gives you inspiration. Is it possible to cook seasonally and pick your ingredients in the middle of a city? C0028.MP4.Still001It is. You get emails sent out about what’s coming in, what’s good on the market at the moment, and then you base your menus around that. I miss having the chance to go to the purveyor and see it for yourself. You can’t do that in London unless you have a massive brigade and time to go out, or if you have your own garden – but in London that’s definitely not going to happen! One day hopefully I’ll find something outside of London again and go back to my roots. Where would you like to be in five years’ time? I take most of it as it comes, I’ve got a young family so I don’t really think too far ahead. One day my missus will have a coffee shop, because she’s a great baker and hopefully one day I can have a pub – that’s what I’d love. What are your goals while you’re at the Gherkin?
Rising Stars Paul Welburn – head chef Rhodes W1 Dan Cox – Fera Adam Reid - The French Tom Sellers – Lickford Inn Mark Greenaway - Restaurant Mark Greenaway Guilty pleasures Kebab Samosa chat Lamb brain Pigs head (boil up and make fritters) Top five restaurants L’enclume Dabbous The Dairy Grain Store from Bruno Loubet  
At the moment, it’s basically just expanding the business, which I’ve been doing since I’ve been here. We were very much formal, fine-dining when I took over but it’s not what the customers and members wanted. We’ve now stripped it back; we’re very unfussy, it’s more natural and simplistic. We’re constantly trying to do new things, I like using lesser-known cuts of meat like pork belly or the cheeks or offal. Anyone can cook, for example a nice fillet – it’s not difficult, and everyone seems to think that has to be on the menu. For me, I much prefer braising a jacob’s ladder or beef cheek there’s more flavour in my opinion. What’s different about where you are now compared to other restaurants in London; what makes you stand out? It’s the view. You have a 360 degree view of London from the top bar. It’s exclusive, you can’t just book – only on the odd occasion, so that’s always a nicety. Which chefs have inspired you over the years, or still do inspire you? Michael Wignall, I did a stage with him and his food’s awesome! Then there’s Sat Bains and Gordon Ramsay back in the day – I’m talking nineties to early noughties Gordon Ramsay, not now. Also Tom Sellers, what he’s doing at Story is brilliant. One chef in Denmark I really like is Rasmus Kofoed from Restaurant Geranium. Everyone always talks about René Redzepi – I like his food and I respect what he’s done, but it’s not really what I like, whereas Restaurant Geranium is spot-on for fine-dining. He got two stars in two or three years – he’s a phenomenal chef. What do you think you would be doing if you hadn’t become a chef? I used to do a lot of MMA when I was younger, I was semi-professional, and so I presume it might have been something along those lines. I did dynamic tiger freestyle kickboxing for years. It was basically just MMA freestyle kickboxing with aikido, jujitsu, stuff like that. The good thing is no one would mess with me in the kitchen! Are you a chef dreaming of being a head chef? Or a head chef looking for a new challenge? Either way check out our jobs board for current positions. 
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th December 2014

Matt Edmonds, head chef, Searcys, The Gherkin