Matt Weedon, Lords of the Manor, Gloucestershire

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th May 2011

Matt has worked at the Lords of the Manor since 2008, gaining them a Michelin star in 2009. Matt also had a Michelin star at Glenapp Castle in Ayshire, where he was head chef. Matt’s career began at Pendley Manor, and since then he has worked at various restaurants including Seaham Hall, Hambleton Hall and L’Ortolan. He takes inspiration from British ingredients and modern French food, believing simplicity is the best way to let the tastes of each piece stand out. Matt talks about his menus and sustainability.

Okay Matt first and foremost thank you for inviting me into the wonderful Lords of the Manor today. Great to come and meet you. Let's just start by a very simple question how many menus do you currently run here?

We run four menus at the minute. We've got fixed price menu, we've got a daily market menu that's included in the room rate and then there's a couple of tasting menus.

And does the daily change daily?

Yeah, yeah it has to. You get so many people"¦it's a big draw, dinner, bed and breakfast, lots of people are on it, probably about 75% of the people are on that package. It's a no choice menu but then obviously you're trying to push people towards the finer things in life, such as the fixed price. So it's the same building blocks, it's the same ingredients, put together in the same kitchen in the same way with the same care. Lots of people will look at it in a way that might suggest that it's cheaper ingredients, but it is the nature of the beast unfortunately. I want them on the á la carte that's where the money's to be made or on the tasting menu I mean we don't make so much money on the tasting menu but then tasting menus are there to show off a little bit of what we can do

And are your dishes from the tasting menu smaller versions of what you offer on the á la carte?

Sometimes. It's nice to have a tasting menu with some different dishes on, something that's not on the menu. So we try and do that whenever we can mostly at weekends when we know it's going to be busy because you don't want to be carrying too much stock midweek especially if you're quiet.

As a chef then are you a fan of tasting menus?

I like cooking them. I understand and I like the dynamics of having them on the menu in the kitchen. It's almost easier for us to push out ten or 15 covers on a Saturday night tasting but as a diner I want to sit across, if I'm eating with my wife or friends, I want to see what they're eating and I want it to be something different. So the idea of the ten course tasting menu was to give a table of two 20 different dishes, it's a kind of a surprise so check on two ten course tasting we'll just go and decide whatever we want to do. It gets the guys running around a bit but I've eaten too many of those ten course tastings where you just sit there for ten courses watching the other person eating exactly what you've got, it becomes a little bit stale, a little bit boring. It's more interesting I mean it seems a little bit more difficult but if you pick things from the right areas of the kitchen at the right time it's no great drama at all.

What's your best selling dish on the menu at the moment?

I'd probably say it is the sea bass. A line caught sea bass we make the macaroni, hand roll the macaroni, Scottish langoustines, truffle foam, macaroni's got truffle in it as well and then there's like a shellfish bisque on the plate and that's a winner.

Would you say that's a very typical dish of your cooking style? Would you say that reflects Matt Weedon on a plate?

Yeah pretty much yes. Fresh as you like, line caught bass, fresh langoustines, some great tasting sauces and some intricate garnish with it.

Do you think as a chef you have a responsibility for sustainability? You mentioned line caught bass.

Yeah I think we are, I think we do, you see people from a chefs point of view on the TV like Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall banging on about the sustainability of cod and that sort of thing and not enough people make enough noise about it, what Hugh is doing is great but as chefs we need to get out of this blinkered, "Oh I've been doing this for years," sort of thing and change, we're not creatures of change at all ((laughs)) it's embarrassing really. We do what we do and we plod along. If other chefs are doing it we'll copy it but if somebody from the outside of the industry comes in and says, "You can't do that," we're just like, "What? We've been doing it for years now." You know fish and chip shops for years have been banging, banging, banging cod to death and now you find that pollack's more expensive than cod because that's the next thing, but there's got to be"¦you can't just go from one to the other and completely destroy pollack, you've got to filter it out "¦ 

Matt is there a danger that people just jump on a sustainability bandwagon and suddenly we see line caught cod, line caught sea bass on menus and that maybe the less scrupulous have got no intention of it being line caught they're just jumping on a trend?

Yes of course. The industry's full of shall we say different characters and you can't always tell who the good guys are from the bad guys but there's an element of trust there there has to be especially in quality operations.

But you think people like you and other leading Chefs should set a standard?

Yeah absolutely, absolutely and yes we've got to, it's a fine balance of trying to put the best ingredients on a plate and do the Rolls Royce thing in an English country house but then you go and see people like David Everitt Matthias cooking hake, and putting duck hearts with it and ceps and stuff like that, I mean the guy's a genius, he's making"¦I mean he"¦

I mean David was foraging before foraging was fashionable wasn't he?

Exactly he's been doing it for years and he's slowly been doing what he does, not missing a service, working away and he's reaping the rewards for it. So hats off to people like David. It's just the other guys who could simply say, "Well I'll call it line caught," and it's farmed and you're like, "Well come on lads be honest and play the game as it effects us all."

No you're right we need honesty and we need transparency that's very important. Okay let's talk about your dishes then what constitutes a dish change? Is it customer feedback? Is it creativity? Is it boredom? What makes you look at something and go, "That needs changing"?

We do get bored.

Chefs do.

We do get bored but we've got a certain list of suppliers that keep ringing us and let us know when things are in season.

Is that a big driver in your menus seasonality?

Oh big time, big time. I mean we've got the guys at Everly Farm shop ringing up a couple of weeks ago and saying, "The crayfish are out," for some strange reason the crayfish were out early, and so we said, "Right we'll take them," and if it's there we'll take it. Of course crayfish apparently it's gone a bit colder now ((laughs)) looking into beautiful cloudless blue sky.

And here we are sat in Sunshine"¦

But yes we get the call, I can't help think crayfish, they're fickle little buggers but if it's ready, you know, it's ready. I was picking wild garlic and not jumping on the foraging bandwagon but I've got two Springer spaniels that I walk three hours a day. I was walking along and there's wild garlic, and it would just be mad not to use it.

Mind where the dogs pee though!!!!!!

Yeah, exactly. Tell the lads to wash it quite well. But you know there's so much out there that you can use but we change dishes when the suppliers let us know the stuff's coming into season. There are things that stay on the menu for a certain period of time. The venison's on from shall we say September.

Are there dishes you have to have on the menu Matt?

I think there are. In an English country house I think you've got to be able to offer, not too stringent sort of framework of a menu but people want to come in and they want to eat beef, whether it be Scottish beef, whatever beef I mean we use longhorn rare breed from down the road and I'm not saying that we use that just because it's local because not everything that's local is best. Food miles are an issue but if Scottish beef was knocking that beef out of the water then I'd be buying Scottish beef.

So what do you go for first then? Is it taste, is it seasonality, is it local?

Seasonality starts. It's got to be seasonality and it's beneficial if it's on your doorstep. There's a little guy in the village who's got an allotment and he keeps dropping stuff outside the back door. It's got to be seasonal. There's no point putting asparagus on yet.

The local tag, has become a bit of a bandwagon as well hasn't it?

Yeah, yeah local has and there's good local and there's bad local.

Absolutely.

We spent three years, I'm not saying bad local but inconsistent local.

What do you mean then, if you had a better product from France you would use it?

France?

No you'd stick to the shores of the UK?

I'd stick to the UK yeah. I mean I worked in Scotland and I've got good contacts up there for foragers and stuff like that. A lot of my wild mushrooms come from Scotland, which arrived today and they buy us truffles and that sort of thing but I'll try and stick to the UK as much as possible. I'm not too worried about prawns from Morecambe I'd rather get something from the Cornish coast, as close as you can get it but yeah definitely seasonality is there first.

You mentioned earlier about driving people to the finer things on the menu as chefs now we're all there to make money"¦

Yeah absolutely in this climate. We work to 70% GP - that's the norm at this level and its achievable year in year out - it just need to be a balanced menu, that's all.  You can't throw luxury at the plate all the time.  It isn't the end of the world if we don't make it but I want to keep my reputation as a Chef who knows how to achieve GP, especially in this climate.  

That's sometimes another misconception isn't it that you have to use luxury items to get accolades.

David Everitt Matthias.

Exactly as you mentioned earlier.

And I've eaten there (Le Champignon Sauvage) five or six times and every time I come away with, I'm not going to rip off dishes because there's no point we're too close and I don't rip off dishes anyway but you always come away with an idea and think, "˜Christ that's a good idea, but can I get away with it in an English country house?'

Because it's different isn't it an English country house like you say"¦

Totally, totally different, you know, you get a totally different set of people. In a standalone restaurant some of the lads in the kitchen will be, "Chef, chef why can't we use wild boar, and why can't we use this, and octopus?" and I'm just like, "It's an English country house," if you've got a lot of tourists here they're not going to come and eat, you know, you can put it on the menu and I know exactly what's going to happen.

Do you have a high American clientele? The Cotswolds always strikes me as a massive American destination because it's quintessentially English.

Yeah exactly. Americans, Japanese, a few more Chinese now. I mean as chefs we don't"¦

Do you have to accommodate that in your menus?

Not really. I think they're here to eat"¦when in Rome sort of thing. You know if I went to Japan I'd do as they do I wouldn't be sitting there expecting a full English breakfast but they do want to come and eat the full afternoon tea and that sort of thing, the traditional scones but they want it creatively done, they want it as fresh as you can get and that's what we try and do here at Lords.

Last question then Matt. We are sat here on a beautiful day, wild garlic's coming up in the woods, lots of things are happening, spring has sprung, so they say, what's your favourite season as a chef and why?

I like, and this sounds a bit cheesy but I do like them all. I love cooking game in the game season, I love the smell of hare bones being roasted, but then I like the smell of crayfish best in the spring, filleting salmon and all that sort of thing. So yeah it sounds a bit cheesy"¦

Come on you've got to pick one.

As a cook actually on a section cooking, game season.

Game's your thing yeah?

Yeah big time.

As a diner then?

((laughs)) Summer. Summer at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons having dinner at the Manoir in the summer yeah can't beat it. Little wander round the garden, glass of champagne and then yeah away we go, great stuff.

Fantastic. Well look thank you for your time.

No problem.

Really, really wonderful to meet you and I really appreciate it..

Fantastic no problem.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th May 2011

Matt Weedon, Lords of the Manor, Gloucestershire