10 minutes with: Matt Davies

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th April 2015
Having just done over 1000 covers across the four restaurants over the Mother’s Day weekend, we caught up with Matt Davies, Vice Chairman of the British Culinary Federation and executive chef of The Lewis Partnership, to find out more about what he is doing to help those starting out in the industry and why he believes his group are the best in the county.Restaurant Starting as most chefs do, washing dishes in a hotel, Matt begun his career in the 80s at The Albany undertaking a part time job whilst studying at a food college in Birmingham. Whilst there he won Chef of the Year and soon realised that he “really wanted to be a chef.” He said: “The prize was a three month stage at The Savoy and from there I was quickly snapped up by another hotel in Birmingham under the tutelage of Andreas Antonia.” Someone who Matt cites as his biggest influence and someone who took him under his wing, who in Matt’s words, is “The Godfather of Birmingham.” He explained: “I worked with him for nearly eight years and still talk to chef today. He put me on my way really, he’s such a great mentor. “He indented in me how to run a kitchen and my food style. You see a lot of chefs in kitchens shouting and being cruel but Andreas’ temperament was a lot different, he was a lot calmer which was a great influence on me; he was able to extract the best out of you and that’s a great way of managing. I certainly learnt my craft from him.” Moving on to become part of The Lewis Partnership Matt explains what the group now encompasses, he said: “We’ve got the fine dining restaurant, The Orangery at The Moathouse which has had its two rosettes for 16 years now, the three-star The Swan Hotel in Stafford town, The Bear Grill and our gastro-pub The Dog and Doublet.” photo 5Although part of the same group Matt explains each establishment holds its own, he said: “They’re all different dining styles but within a very short mile radius the formula works. “We’ve pinpointed each market in Staffordshire but The Orangery is AA listed and has its rosettes; we’ve had from Gordon to Marco to The Hairy Bikers eating here.” It’s this formula that Matt believes has been unrivalled even though there has been some great restaurants open in the county. He said: “They failed as they don’t realise the amount of stress, cost and hours needed to run a restaurant. “I think over the 17 years that I’ve worked with The Lewis Partnership a lot of restaurants have opened and closed. “We do have some decent restaurants in the county, there are many that are very good but from a business level unfortunately nobody touches us.” This success hasn’t however been unrecognised, he explained: “There is something called the Staffordshire Business awards which have been running since 2000 and we’ve won Taste of Staffordshire Best Restaurant award nine times, with the Swan and the Dog and Doublet also winning a handful of restaurant awards. “This is great for the county as it brings people to the county and allows us to build strong links between the restaurants in Staffordshire.”Scallop, bacon jam, chervil root Spending one day a week visiting all the restaurants and meeting with the head chefs Matt explains that this is very much a 24 hour job where his mobile “is always on”. He said: “I do get a day off but my mobile is always on and I’m only an email away. “It’s awkward for my wife but we’ve been married for 25 years this year and she’s absolutely my rock. I’m so lucky in this industry to have a wife who supports me the way she does. “I run the business very closely with my Managing Partner, Chris Lewis, we have a very healthy professional working relationship, Chris is the Hospitality Entrepreneur, and me the Chef. “We work together making sure we have a viable business that makes a profit.” With The Orangery as the flagship it’s a restaurant that turns over £2million a year and is the aim for the chefs who work within the group. Matt said: “The guys are testament to the restaurant as they’ve been with me for a long time. Ham hock, carrot ketchup, pineapple“We’re a very viable business with a lot of people booked in every night, it’s phenomenal but we know we’ve got to push as hard as we can.” Although it is phenomenally busy this experience has meant Matt is in a position to impart his wisdom and help those looking to get into the industry, especially with his own Staffordshire Young Chef Of The Year. The group also offers stages to first and second year Stafford College students which has the potential to turn into full time roles. Also the Chairman of the Staffordshire Chef Forum, organising networking lunches etc for local chefs and businesses, Matt said: “I have developed the Stafford College and Lewis Partnership foundation which received Savoy Trust funding after I wrote to them two years ago; they granted me £1000 for transport and things which was great. “Every year, around this time of year, we offer a week’s stage in all our businesses and the ones that are really foodies come here (The Orangery) but we use students in all our restaurant’s across the group.photo 1 “For us it’s a great tool as I’ve just employed two more chefs from that week’s work experience. They’ve had the potential and now they’ve got the jobs so that works excellently with us.” Being able to offer this to college students as well as being part of the British Culinary Federation is a job that perfectly fits Matt’s aim for the industry. He said: “My philosophy is there is no them and us.” Speaking of the various associations and federations he said: “We’ve got different business models and different outlooks but the end result is that we all want the same thing of bring the kids on, training and nurturing.” Having only been Vice Chairman since November last year Matt says he has been learning a lot on how federations work. He said: “My brief is to push forward the BCF, from where it is today, which hopefully I think I can as I'm a do-er. “I’ve really divulged into what is really out there with all the associations. I’m one of those people that like to get things done and whatever I do has to be good for the business, the association or the individual; it’s never about just benefiting me.” Crispy egg, gnocchi, trumpet mush, truffle, shallotMoving forward Matt and Chris’ main aim is to build upon what they’ve already got rather than expanding for expanding’s sake. He explained: “We want to concentrate on what we’re doing now and to make that better; expansion is not always the best idea. “We want to develop and improve, at the end of the day if you always make sure you are moving forward and making better what you are doing now then your business will succeed. With that you will have consistency, we’re not going out and buying more but instead concentrating on our core businesses.” Find out more about The Lewis Partnership and the four Staffordshire establishments it encompasses here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th April 2015

10 minutes with: Matt Davies