Matt Gillan, Head Chef, The Pass, South Lodge, Sussex

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th August 2012
Matt Gillan is head chef of The Pass restaurant at the South Lodge Hotel in Sussex. Matt has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants including Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Midsummer House and The Vineyard at Stockcross, but his passion started when he was still in school and started a part time job preparing vegetables at a local restaurant. He has a real affection for produce which stemmed from when he was travelling in Australia, where he ended up picking fruit and vegetables on the east coast. Matt’s signature dish at The Pass is saddle of lamb with slow cooked belly and lamb fat gnocchi.   Matt Gillan wonderful to come and see you again. First and foremost congratulations on the star a great achievement for you and all the team. Thank you very much. It’s two years ago since we interviewed you so let’s talk about the process you went through, if any, with regards to change and why do you think you've achieved the star? What have you done differently on your menus? I don’t think we done anything different, there was pressure put on us originallyto gain a star for the pass, but once we realised actually let’s not go for the star let’s focus on what we do well, let’s find our style, let’s gel together to work on the basics and build up from there, the thought process was if we work on these areas and keep building then eventually a star will come. Are you more confident now with your food style? Yes definitely because we’ve taken that time to build on it and we didn’t put pressure on ourselves thinking, ‘Is this good enough for Michelin and the guide,’ it was more about is this good enough for us? Let’s get the feedback from our guests and it’s always been a journey for us. Brilliant. Talk us through the number of menus you run here? We run three menus for lunch, three course, five course, seven course. Are they interlinked? So for example is the seven course an extension of the five course? No, no. all completely separate. It’s a lot of items. Yes then at dinner it’s six and eight courses but we’re looking to put on maybe a 12 or ten course, maybe a surprise menu, these are things we are looking at. Matt you’re creating a lot of work aren’t you lots ingredients lots of mis en place? Yes but there's a lot of ideas that we have that don’t probably quite sit right on the six or eight course menu, of course we need to be sensible about the dishes we put on and the flavours we’re using but a 12 course would just be for those hard-core foodies, there's a lot of people that travel to London from Sussex for dinner and those kind of dining experiences, we’ve got a very kind of city-based environment so let’s  try and get people out of the city as well and have them dine with us. Matt from memory you used to be quite heavy into your vegetarian dishes here at the pass is that still the case? Yeah it’s still the case, we’ve got vegetarian menus, or vegetarian dishes on the eight course menu, I think there's two, two out of the eight are veggie dishes. And how do you find it, is there a market for that vegetarian has become very fashionable? Obviously there is because you have it on the menu. We feel it’s important especially locally Brighton is very close, there are a number of vegaterian restaurants there, so to have that option as well it makes it more attractive to vegatarians. Lots of menus, lots of different items, lots of mise en place, you're part of a hotel group which like any hotel group will be expecting you to deliver commercially as well as accolade-wise, so how do you go about managing your food costs and how do you cost your menus? We’ve got a spreadsheet which is broken down in two separate ways. So we have a breakdown onto menu, so six courses we’ll have a price for six courses and then what the food costs should be and then within that each dish has its own separate  food cost. So you’d cost each dish individually and then that goes into a menu which is then costed overall? Yes. So then we just tweak and so say we use fillet of beef which we don’t but say there's fillet of beef on that then we need to be smart about the other foods that we use around this high cost item. So you've got mackerel as a starter or something? Yes exactly or perhaps some pork belly something where we can off set the cost. What GP do you work to? 68%. That's supported as well a little bit by the whole hotel. So if banqueting are heaving then I’ll use that opportunity to get some addtional allowance for the Pass… And how many covers can you do in the Pass? We do 22 covers. Which is a challenge at that GP isn’t it? We do up to 32 as well and today we’ve got a table of 16 in so it kind of brings in a little bit of money which of course helps us with the cost. All chefs always look at the cost they pay and the price they charge but there's lots of other things involved in costing, wastage, storage, stock rotation, how do you manage all those things? Everything that is ordered is only ordered because it needs to be prepped that day that for us is how we work. So you work on a day by day basis? Pretty much I mean there are some things that you need to get in a couple of days ahead. So in terms of storage wastage is if it can be used somehow we will use it I’ll go round the kitchen and just ask the guys, “Do you need those lamb bellies or are they going for something else?” So I’ll take things like that, I've always got my eye open for a bargain. If I don’t need to pay for it I won't. Absolutely. And do you have flexibility on your menus that if you have a supplier phone you up and say, “Look we’ve just landed some fantastic brill can you use it?” do you have the flexibility to put that on your menu? I have that flexibility but I'm not one of those chefs I can't just say, “Oh yeah send us that in and we’ll botch a dish together and put it on the menu,” it’s not how I work and in my opinion it’s not the standard that we work to. I'm sure as I progress then I’ll move more into that but for me that involves doing dishes that you've already done before and it’s just not what we do here at The Pass. A dish comes off the menu that's it, it’s gone and that keeps us moving forwards. What drives change for you is it feedback, is it seasonality, is it produce, all of those things? All of those things, boredom, as well, it’s busy at the moment so because we have the tasting menus it gets quite repetitive from our point of view, you can only see the same dish so many times and it needs to go and you just hit that point probably for me it,s after about three weeks, you look at the dish, and just go that needs to go with something else, which normally means that something else has come into season so it’s constantly changing. By the nature of the restaurant you are in a goldfish bowl so everyone can see what you do but how do you take customer feedback? Is that a key driver in menus? You have to listen to what the customer says . They are the reason we’re doing what we do, so if you’re not listening to these people then that’s the point where you go and set yourself up in a development kitchen or something else feed back is key. Especially in a hotel you have to be flexible . It’s a little bit different I think in a restaurant because people choose to come to your restaurant don’t they but in a hotel… Yes and I think we’re a little bit different to a hotel, people do come to the restaurant as a destination now. Okay so you’re starting to create an almost standalone restaurant identity are you? Yes we like to think so. Great, great. I’d like to think we’re becoming a destination but, you know, it doesn’t mean we can dictate, that this is what we do, there still has to be that interaction with the guests and it,s important for us to understand what they want. That's hospitality industry. we're delivering what they want, we’ll put our own personality into that but if the majority of the restaurant say they don’t like a dish then why would you keep it on? Last question for you then, despite the weather we are in summer so peas, fêves all of those wonderful things but as a chef what’s your favourite season and why Round about now normally. Why summer? I love summer, I love the colours that are coming through, the flavours, yes the strawberries, the elderflowers and… I think pastry chefs love this time of year don’t they because they’ve got more stone fruit more berries. Yes a lot of the stone fruits coming through now as well and there are so many applications there, savoury or sweet. I think it’s just the amount of fruit and vegetables around, it does get me going a little bit, I don't know why but I do become more interested in vegetables and fruits and different ways of being able to create functional dishes around them. Well congratulations on everything you've achieved down here at the Pass. Great coming to talk to you again and we’ll see you again in two years. We’ll come and do a video.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th August 2012

Matt Gillan, Head Chef, The Pass, South Lodge, Sussex