'We can say, 'back in my day,' but we're not back in your day, this is today and this is the reality. The world has changed and we have to change'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

It's been a year since Matt Abé was named chef patron of three Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

There's no denying that the transition came at a unique time, as the country was recovering from a first lockdown in the spring of 2020.

The chef has had to face another since, as well as a range of restrictions and regulations affecting operations at the restaurant, but he has taken it in his stride and used the time wisely.

"It's given us opportunities to be like, 'hang on, we have to stop,' so you can draw a line in the sand and start fresh in a sense," from redesigning the menus to reassessing suppliers, reviewing their approach to recruitment and thinking creatively about running the business and teams.

Carte Blanche

Thanks to the lifting of restrictions, they have found a return to normality at the restaurant, and are more able to look to the future.

"The restaurant feels very positive, staff are happy, guests are happy, people are having a great time."

"Sometimes I come out into the restaurant now and the buzz, the vibe is electrifying. It's just so nice to hear people laughing, glasses clinking, cutlery on the plate, people having a great old time. It's a great contrast compared to the weeks leading up to the first lockdown." 

While the food is produced to the same exacting standards as it was prior to the pandemic, the chef has introduced a new surprise tasting menu format, the 'Carte Blanche,' which has proven very popular with guests.

"It's a great experience because it allows me to be a lot more free in the kitchen," he explained. The menu changes "as and when, constantly, all the time things are evolving, working with different produce.""

Not having a printed menu, and "allowing the guests to go on a journey as a surprise, I think is a fantastic thing. It allows us to showcase the talents and the skills of the kitchen and the team to its best."

'What I look for in a person is more about their personality and how they conduct themselves than their cooking ability'

Naturally, Britain's enthusiastic rush out to eat, drink and be merry has meant an abrupt return for the team at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, in the midst of a staffing crisis which has gripped the entire industry.

"It's been difficult for everyone, for sure," he said. "Coming back from a curfewed stage to full-throttle, which is where we are now, 100 miles an hour again, has been an adjustment.

"I can tell you now, the first lunch we had back was a big shock for everyone, but you quickly find your way again and things have evolved, things have changed and we have had to adapt." 

"At the end of the day, that's been very positive." 

Having had to recruit seven members of staff -  a third of his team - when the final restrictions were lifted in July, the existing crew were under some pressure from having to train them up in service.

But the chef has changed his recruitment process in the past year, as a result of having to interview chefs remotely, and he believes this has made a world of difference.

"It really emphasised to me that what I look for in a person is more about their personality and how they conduct themselves than their cooking ability, because we can teach them that. It's more about attitude." 

"My team is the epitome of that now, they have a very positive attitude, looking forward all the time and working really hard."

The chef is looking into bringing in more chefs on prep, "potentially looking at changing the way we work in that sense," but there are some physical constraints to consider. 

"Space is a premium in a restaurant, so there is always a limit to how many chefs you can have working at one time and what can and can't get done." 

That having been said, challenging their own previous practices is no longer a barrier, and the past year "has been a chance for everyone to get out of the habit of 'we've always done it this way, so that's the only way there is to do it." 

"By having this time, it's allowed us to go, 'wait, actually that's silly, why are we doing this, we can do this and it doesn't compromise anything, so let's do this, it makes more sense.'" 

"There's always room for evolution for people moving forward and for things to happen - you've just got to jump in at the deep end and see how it goes." 

'I still come to work with that hunger and desire to continue all the hard work that's been put in over the years, to continue that growth'

Integral to taking the title of chef patron last year was what it meant in terms of the trust invested in him by chef owner Gordon Ramsay. Being allowed him to make decisions freely and to be expressive as he pleases with his food, "is an amazing thing," he said.

"Responsibility for the business was always there, but now it's even more important, having that role and that responsibility, making those decisions as an equal with Gordon." 

His day-to-day isn't too different from what it was before his change of title, he said, and "I still come to work with that hunger and desire to continue all the hard work that's been put in over the years, to continue that growth and to continue the growth of my team and watch others around me progress." 

As for the prominence it might give him in a public-facing sense, the chef isn't too keen to step into the limelight, focusing instead on overseeing his team, supporting the team at Pétrus and serving the wider group when needed. The chef has also been instrumental in setting up the Gordon Ramsay Academy, the celebrity chef's cookery school set to open in Woking in the autumn. 

'The desire is still to have my own place and when the time is right, the time will be right, but I don't know when that will be'

Although aware of his privilege and the opportunities before him as the chef patron of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Matt still wants to see his own name above the door of a restaurant one day. 

"It's an honour to have that trust - particularly from someone like Gordon Ramsay - to run the flagship restaurant of the group. It gives me that air of freedom to do as I wish in a sense, but I still do have that deep down passion and desire inside to one day go out and do it on my own and do it for myself."

"That's not being disrespectful to anything that we do here, it's just that 'starting from scratch' and allowing that element of creation to occur."

"A restaurant never opens on day one perfect, it's a thing that grows all the time - it's like a person - it constantly grows and evolves and changes, there are so many things to keep moving forward all the time."

That having been said, he added, "I'm very content with where I am now and the way things are going is extremely positive, I'm thoroughly enjoying it."

"The desire is still to have my own place and when the time is right, the time will be right, but I don't know when that will be."

In the meantime, his focus is on the here and the now - adapting to and being instrumental in the changing landscape of the British hospitality industry.

"Things will change. Will everything go back to what it was? I'm hoping that patronage and people going out having a great time will, but we as a team and as an industry will evolve and change other aspects, which at the end of the day can only be for the better." 

"Now is the time that we can all draw the line in the sand. We can say, 'back in my day,' but we're not back in your day, this is today and this is the reality. The world has changed and we have to change, we have to evolve, otherwise we'll get left behind."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 3rd September 2021

'We can say, 'back in my day,' but we're not back in your day, this is today and this is the reality. The world has changed and we have to change'