Matt Worswick, Head Chef, The Latymer at Pennyhill Park

The  Staff Canteen

Matt Worswick, head chef at The Latymer, who has become a familiar face thanks to appearances on BBC1's MasterChefs: The Professionals in 2010 and most recently BBC2's Great British Menu, entered the industry when he was 17  because he ‘needed a job’.

Originally from Liverpool he learnt his trade at Teän at St. Martins-on-the-Isle on The Isles of Scilly with Kenny Atkinson.  He says Le Champignon Sauvage, working under David Everritt-Matthias was his ‘finishing school’ and he took these skills to Glenapp Castle, holding the Michelin star there aged 26. He moved on to Thornton Hall before taking over as head chef at The Latymer this year, replacing Michael Wignall.

We spoke to Matt about ‘having big shoes to fill’ at The Latymer, his bold, masculine cooking style and the pressure to retain stars in the Michelin Guide UK.

Matt Worswick on this year's Great

British Menu

You’ve recently featured on Great British Menu, it was your second time, why did you want to do it again?

Its good exposure and I like the competition. I’ve watched the show for ten years and I grew up with it, I was always amazed seeing all these amazing chefs on the tele doing all this crazy food. It’s a great way to showcase your own food although you have to stick to a brief which Is quite restrictive but that is the name of the game.

Obviously the producers and the viewers like jeopardy, so that’s always going to take place but to be honest it’s fairly natural because it’s an unusual environment, under time restrictions and you have some meaty two star chef breathing down your neck as well!

So, what appealed to you about being a chef?

The love first started with eating food, rather than cooking food. It’s always been a big influence but I fell into the job because I needed one. There was an advert in Lancashire with no experience necessary and I thought ‘I can do that’. As soon as I went in to the kitchen I loved the fast paced atmosphere. It got me started but I didn’t really do proper food until St Martins I suppose.

You spent four years at St Martins with Kenny Atkinson, how was that?

I was a cocky little shit and he looked after me. He showed me what to do and taught me about the food, I sort of grew up there which was nice. Kenny is really laid back and he has a lot of time for people, I started as a commis chef and left as a junior sous. We got a Michelin star in my second year there which was great. The food we were doing then was before all the water baths and stuff. It was really good food considering we were in the middle of an island.

>>> Read more about Kenny here

Kenny gave me a chance, I went from a one rosette place to a three rosette, so the jump was fairly massive. The hours, the

Scallop, barbecued leek, caviar

precision – it was difficult to get your head around. But once I got used to it I loved it, it was great.

It was closed for three months of the year because of the tourist season so Kenny would send me off, I worked at The Elephant for a bit and Lords of the Manor

And from working with Kenny, you went to Le Champignon Sauvage with David Everritt-Matthias ?

Yes, that was the finishing school. The way that guy thinks about food is incredible and on his day he is better than anybody. His palette is just incredible. There were only four chefs when I was there, so you were washing up your own pots midweek!

The chefs would come up with the lunch menu, so you had to be bloody good to keep in with the style of food, David would mentor you and he still does. I can still phone him up for advice, it’s nice to have somebody like that.

>>> Read more about David here

He started the foraging thing because he had too and now everyone does it, it’s got a bit out of control. He was one of the first people to use vegetables in his desserts, he just always questioned the norm and I learned a lot.

How heavily is your cooking style now, influenced by chefs you’ve worked with previously?

You are always going to have an influence from people where you’ve worked, that’s the reason you work for them. I hope Kenny has influenced me because he’s a bloody good chef and the same with David, two stars, it’s an aspiration a lot of chefs have.

Why did you want to take on The Latymer?

Everyone knows about The Latymer, it’s got an incredible reputation in the industry and people say big shoes to fill and I suppose it is but I don’t think about that. I do my food, which is completely different to Michael Wignall’s food.

So what is your style of food?

Welsh wagyu beef rump

cap, smoked almond pesto & braised snails

I try and make it as bold as I can, if I say there is a flavour within a dish you can always taste it. So the beef and onion bread we do flavour is paramount. It really annoys me when you have a prime ingredient like say tomatoes and they don’t taste like tomato, at our level you should be able to make food taste nice.

Bold, masculine flavours is what we are all about.

Have you brought your style here or have you had to change to fit in with The Latymer’s clientele?

I think the major thing chefs miss is clientele, you have to realise who you are cooking for. It’s ok me coming down here and doing whatever I want but it’s got to suit the market and the classical dining room. But the fact it’s in a five star hotel means you can be quite luxurious with the ingredients. People so far have been really receptive to the food, the feedback has been good so I’ll carry on doing what I’m doing. My food style is ever evolving, it always has been.

Talk us through the menu and how you come up with dishes?

The dishes come from everybody, I employ people for their experience so why not use that knowledge that they ‘ve got? It’s not a one horse race it’s everybody’s, if we get accolades they are not mine they are everybody’s, if someone comes up with a dish it’s not mine the guys will cook it on sauce, prep it. As long as we are all on the same wavelength to push the food forward and make it better.

We do a ten and a six course tasting menu, the six course Is so we can offer hotel guests a shorter dining experience if they want it.

At the minute we have a lobster dish which I really like, it’s similar to what I did on Great British Menu. It’s quite difficult with the ten and the six course to put dishes on and take them off, because if you take something off you have to replace it with something pretty awesome. The seasons force our hand too so we’ll adapt the lobster dish and take the peas off when they are done and replace them with something else.

How are you finding the role here?

I don’t know if it’s what I expected, I thought it would be a harsh environment, highly pressurised as it’s in the Home Counties so it has the London market. But everyone has been amazing, the managers have let me come in and do what I want to do and although it’s a family run hotel, it’s a massive place.

What are your plans for The Latymer?

I’ve only been here for six months and losing both of the stars is very disappointing but I’ll just work my nuts off and see what happens. We are cooking from the heart and it feels right, the customers seem to enjoy what we're doing and that's what is imperative.

Once you’ve had a star in the Michelin Guide does getting it back become your main focus?

You always want it back but sometimes it’s just right time and right place. When I got it at Glenapp it was like a dog chasing a car, once I got it I thought ‘what do I do with it now?’. But it’s a bench mark to work to, I use the guide a lot and I go to starred restaurants a lot but the time frame we’ve had here is so short, it’s not the end of the world and I’m not going to drastically change the style of food.  

And are you looking to have your own place one day?

I’m happy where I am, I know this is the place where I can cook the best food I can and when people say the good old days or that was the best time of your life, I know that this is the best time of my life now. I’m really enjoying it and I love it, it’s good to have people believe in you.

 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th October 2016

Matt Worswick, Head Chef, The Latymer at Pennyhill Park