What’s cooking? Matt Gill, The Hundred at Ashendon
In this new Muddy regular, our favourite chefs spill all about their work, lives and top tips. Dishing it this week: Matt Gill at The Hundred of Ashendon.
Chefs are busy people, and none more so than Matt Gill over at charming rural pub The Hundred at Ashendon, mid Buckinghamshire – five Bib Gourmands in a row takes a lot of work, right?! You can go try out The Hundred as part of the government Eat Out to Help Out scheme this month (I’ve eaten here several times and can vouch ’tis amazing). But until then, get a flavour of the pub and the passions behind it with our brand new quick-fire feature focusing on the best chefs and their foodie passions. Ready Matt? Annnd, go!
Your first job in a kitchen?
I did some washing up in local pubs, and then did some commis chef work when I was 21 and travelling in Sydney. I didn’t come back to kitchens until I was 25, which is actually pretty late for a chef. I started working at the Dinton Hermit in Aylesbury for a mate of mine who was head chef there (and younger than me!).
What is your career highlight?
Working at St JOHN in London.
Sum up your food philosophy?
Locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients, and unpretentious, no-frills cooking. I’m a big believer in ‘nose to tail’ – unfashionable cuts of meat are actually full of flavour. It works for vegetables too; people throw away everything these days, when you can use peelings and leaves in stocks and soups.
Most memorable moment at work?
When I found out we won the first Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2015. We were waiting on the 2016 Guide to be released when the announcement flashed up on Twitter – it was totally unexpected. I think I danced around the kitchen a bit.
Ever cooked for anyone famous?
While I was working at St JOHN and Bocca di Lupo in Soho, I saw quite a few faces: Steven Spielberg, Helen Mirren, Gwen Stefani. Now I’m in my own pub, Tony Hadley pops in now and again!
What’s been your biggest mistake at work?
Mistakes are part of the process and can actually turn into a positive a lot of the time, but I wish I’d made more notes on methodology in my early years as a chef. I always wrote down the ingredients, but a recipe without a method is useless. That, and sticking an oyster knife in my hand in the middle of service.
You’re tired, starving and impatient: what do you cook for dinner?
Coming in late and starving is pretty part and parcel for a chef, but I wouldn’t cook dinner at midnight. You can’t beat Marmite on toast with a slab of mature cheese on top – make the cheddar as strong as possible.
What would you cook to impress a date?
Anything they wanted! Although, if you’re cooking for a date I don’t believe in trying too hard. Make a one-pot dish that’s simple and full of flavour. If your date is expecting fine dining, then you should run a mile.
Fergus Henderson (founder of St JOHN); he’s absolutely changed the footprint of cooking in this country. David Chang, because his outlook on food is something I really agree with, and on social, I’m a fan of Nathan Outlaw’s stuff. I haven’t eaten at any of his restaurants, but I’d love to visit his place in Port Isaac.
The Complete Nose to Tail Cookbook – mainly because I’m in it! If you flip to the vanilla ice cream recipe, there I am. But all the St JOHN recipe books are my bible. I’m also a fan of The Sportsman by Stephen Harris, because he’s very honest about his less straightforward route into cooking, and how he’s been inspired and influenced by other chefs. A lot of chefs are quite cagey about admitting to that kind of thing.
Favourite type of cuisine?
This is tricky, because it changes all the time! I wouldn’t ever want to cook the same cuisine all the time, but French is my biggest infleunce. It’s nostalgic to me; it reminds me of holidays with the kids. Southern America BBQ is good too.
Favourite kitchen gadget?
I don’t do gadgets – my kitchen is a bit old school that way. Although I do have a mini Kamado grill, which is an egg-shaped barbecue that you use for cooking over coals and wood.
Favourite local hotspots?
For cafés, NORSK in Haddenham is good, as is The Green Grocer in Amersham. Restaurant-wise, I enjoy The Magdalen Arms on Iffley Road in Oxford and Arbequina on Cowley Road. I love the The Nut Tree in Murcott too – I spent some time there with Mike North and Imogen and they set me on a good path. Mike is one of the most gifted chefs I’ve worked with.
Favourite local markets and suppliers?
We use Boarstall Meats in Aylesbury, and if I’m stuck for fruit and veg, especially in these strange times when wholesale is tricky, then Blooming Fruity in Haddenham is a good option – Sally is lovely. Thame Market on Tuesday mornings is good for fruit and veg too, and there’s a stall called Kuen’s Kitchen that does excellent Malaysian food. The rendang is delicious.
Favourite things to eat when you’re on holiday?
It depends on where you are! I think you should always try to eat what the region is good at, whether that’s risotto in Venice, lamb’s tongues in Lyon, bouillabaisse in Marseille, or fish and chips by the sea in England!
What mistake do inexperienced cooks tend to make?
Putting too many things on a plate – or a slate, or shoe, or hat, whatever they’re serving food on in restaurants these days! Less is more; you can still be generous with portions, you just don’t need to put 17 different elements on a plate. Also not tasting your food, you should always taste anything before it goes out.
Favourite ingredient and why?
I like really humble ingredients, like onions and potatoes, just because you can do so many things with them! But I always keep a bottle of sherry vinegar to hand, as it can lift a lot of things.
Most overrated ingredient?
Lobster is overrated. Crab and crayfish are amazing from our shores, but people pay through the nose for lobster and I don’t understand it.
The dish you’re most proud of creating?
I recently got hold of some Périgord truffle, a stinky black truffle from France, and I grated it over egg and chips, which was my dad’s favourite meal. I think he would have been quite happy with that.
Tell us your best ever cooking tip?
If you’re making a Sunday roast, put your joint of meat into a medium oven. People often chuck lamb or beef into a very hot oven, but you should give it time to gently cook through.
Also, put your roasting joint on a big slab of bread – especially if it’s pork. You get all the caramelised, dark brown bits of meat that feed into the bread, and then when you remove the joint you can bang the bread back in the oven for a bit and it’s delicious. It’ll probably send me to an early grave though!
Three dishes every home cook should master?
Eggs – scrambled, poached, and fried. Any kind of soup; Ferguson Henderson always says you never underestimate the power of soup. And slow one-pot cooking such as stews.
Loads of us are really bored of our own cooking right now – any advice?
Go out! Support your local indie – they need people through the door. Use Muddy to work out where to go (Ed’s note: I didn’t ask him to say that, honest!).
The Hundred of Ashendon is open for bookings from 12-2.30pm and 6.30-9.15pm on Mondays to Wednesdays and Fridays and Saturdays, 6.30-9.30pm on Thursdays, and 12-3.45pm on Sundays. Call 01296 651 296 or email email@example.com.