Matthew Kemp, Underground Cookery School

The Staff Canteen
Matthew Kemp

Matthew Kemp discusses his role as Founder at Underground Cookery School and his own inspirations with regards to pursuing a career as a Chef.

Name: Matthew Kemp

Place of work: Underground Cookery School

Role: Founder

Bio: After discovering his culinary potential practising in his own kitchen, Matthew’s first step into the industry began when he approached Theo Randall for a part-time job at The River Café, discovering the ethos of cooking simple food with delicious seasonal ingredients. Six months later, whilst in a sales job selling cakes, Matthew started working at Le Pont de la Tour where he learnt invaluable industry skills; even as an amateur, Matthew’s enthusiasm meant he was able to hold his own in a kitchen that had just cooked a party for Bill Clinton.

Soon thereafter, spotting an opportunity to begin his own culinary business venture in an old parish church, Matthew brokered a deal where he ran parish events at cost, in return for concessionary rental of the space. Consequently, the Underground Cookery School was born in Old Street with a startup budget of £50. Donning his Chef whites, Matthew advertised classes teaching simple home cooking and over the next 13 years the Underground Cookery School continued to thrive. 

In January 2016, Matthew recruited Martyn Reynolds as Head Chef who has worked for the likes of William Drabble and Michael Wignall at Michelin star level.

You can follow the Underground Cookery School on Twitter @cookinglesson

Chef Skills

Matthew Kemp takes us through his personal experiences whilst being in the Culinary Industry. These key skills that young Chefs and industry professionals learn as part of their basic training.

As a self-taught Chef, what is the best advice you could give to a young Chef starting out in the industry?

Working as a Chef is physically and mentally challenging so make sure you start in the best possible kitchen, and that you're very proud of the food you're cooking, that way you've always something to show for your considerable effort. Be happy to do the most basic of jobs and before long, if you've the right attitude and commitment, you'll be rewarded with fantastic opportunities.

How important is training?

Essential, you can't survive without learning the basics, and never stop asking questions.

Why did you start Underground Cookery School – did you feel there was a  gap in the market?

Yes, there was nothing in The City when I started in 2003, I was absolutely the first. I started off doing classes that anyone could attend, promoting them by handing out leaflets in my whites. People were quite unreliable and there was a huge demand for team building events, so I dropped the "walk in classes", and focused on staging corporate events, hen and birthday parties,  which is still what we specialise in as a business today.

Do you think there are too many Chefs looking to start their own restaurant nowadays rather than going into teaching?

The majority of Chef's in most kitchens will be under 30 because of the physical demands of the job. I think the issue is that most leave the industry after this age without considering the option of teaching which is a shame, considering the experience and skill developed up to this point.

What advice would you give to somebody looking to start their own business or restaurant?

Make sure you understand the financial side of the business, lead by example, invest in your staff, and appreciate the importance of constantly developing your product to keep what you’re doing up to date.

What are your ultimate top 5 tips for someone looking to start a career in the hospitality sector?

1. The customer always comes first.

2. Never stop learning.

3. Work with innovators.

4. Never lose your passion.

5. Have a life outside the industry and cherish it.

If you could go back and do anything differently what would you do?

I wouldn't change a thing; the toughest lessons were in many cases the most important.

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Editor 4th May 2017

Matthew Kemp, Underground Cookery School