Chocolate aero with dark chocolate mousse and salted caramel by Chef Matt Worswick
Roast wood pigeon with black pudding and baby beets by Chef Matt Worswick
Seared sea bass with salt-baked heritage carrots by Chef Matt Worswick
Gariguette strawberries and vanilla parfait by Chef Matt Worswick
Matt Worswick grew up in Old Swan, an inner-city area of Liverpool. He told us he grew up eating ‘homely food – it wasn’t gastronomical, but it was tasty. Definitely tasty. It was just Liverpool household classics really.’ He spent his summers on The Isle of Man, where his grandmother lived: ‘She would grow her own vegetables, so it was a very different environment over there, especially foodwise, compared to Liverpool city centre. She was a member of the Women’s Institute which obviously helped with the brief for Great British Menu.’
Like many chefs, it was economic imperative that first got him into the professional kitchen: ‘I needed a job! It’s not very glamorous is it? I looked on a catering website and there was a posting for an apprentice chef – no experience necessary. So I thought ‘I can do that!’ I went to the interview and got it. About half an hour in I thought ‘This is amazing, I love this!’ The time went really fast, every day was different and I loved the pressure of service. It was great, I loved the whole atmosphere.’
His first position was at The Crofters Hotel in Garstang, Lancashire, but he quickly moved on to more serious kitchens, settling at Teän at St. Martins-on-the-Isle on The Isles of Scilly, working with Kenny Atkinson. He told us: ‘I did my proper training there. That was a serious place, with accolades – they had a Michelin star. It was fantastic – he taught me what I needed to know and laid the groundwork. It was great food, quite modern at the time, it was ten years ago now. Kenny was a great teacher. He really took his time with me – I needed a bit of moulding.’ As it was a seasonal position, over the three years he was there he also worked with Simon Hulstone at The Elephant in Torquay and at Lords of the Manor in the Cotswolds. After leaving Teän, he took a position at Gravetye Manor in West Sussex, staying there for two years.
He took a stage at legendary two-star restaurant, Le Champignon Sauvage, working under David Everritt-Matthias. When he was offered a job, he says: ‘I almost ripped his hand off!’ His time at this restaurant was incredibly formative and he says: ‘It was probably the most influential place I ever worked at. I was there for two years and it was almost like a finishing school. It was absolutely fantastic, the food was just phenomenal. The pace and the speed that the food was delivered – and the style, the execution! I thought it was mind-boggling. David has a different approach to ingredients and food, and the way it looks – very, very flavour driven. He would use cheaper, less well known ingredients – the skill needed to work with those ingredients is amazing.
He was a forager, always has been, long before it became fashionable. David is one hundred percent a mentor, I really look up to him. He looks after people and that’s a rarity in this business – especially at that level. He’s got two Michelin stars, four AA rosettes, he’s in the top ten of The Good Food Guide and he’s never missed a service in twenty-six years. He’s certainly an ambassador for the industry, almost an unsung hero.’ After six months Matt Worswick was made sous-chef.
A move to Scotland followed, to begin a role as head chef at Glenapp Castle on the Ayrshire coast of West Scotland. Aged just twenty-six, he held the restaurant’s Michelin star. He told us: ‘My food there was heavily influenced by David Everitt-Matthias. We were in the countryside and it was hard to get supplies, but we had our own kitchen garden which was quite nice. We had wild mushrooms, but here we were foraging because we needed it, because it was a necessity. The food was classical, as we were inside a castle, but we updated it a bit, gave it a twist.’
In 2014, returning to the region of his birth, he took responsibility for the kitchens at Thornton Hall Hotel and Spa, on The Wirral. Here he was charged with improving what was already an excellent kitchen, with three AA rosettes. His menu at the hotel included delicate starters such as Scallops with leek and dill, alongside richer offerings like Fois gras parfait with apricot and chamomile granola. Hearty mains ranged from Roast wood pigeon with black pudding and baby beets to Seared sea bass with salt-baked heritage carrots. Luscious desserts of Chocolate aero, dark chocolate mousse and salted caramel and Gariguette strawberry and vanilla parfait rounded out the meals.
He told us: ‘I’m big and Northern, and I think that comes through in the style of food. No thrills, but just great, great flavours. I’m not here to baffle people with the food that I’m doing. We’re just trying to make the restaurant as busy as possible and get the quality through the roof. My food shouts out its flavour and it can be quite rich. I’ve been to places where there’s eighteen things on the plate and you’re trying to work out which flavours go together. People who eat in my restaurant will know what they’re eating, without even reading the menu. Really bold, hearty flavours. That’s the way I work and I think that’s the way David [Everitt-Matthias] works as well. The food should be able to speak for itself. I’ve trained in some great places, so it’s not just about sticking simple food on the menu. It’s difficult to make something elegant, bold and delicious, but I’ve been doing it long enough now, so hopefully I’ve mastered it!’
His 2015 appearance on Great British Menu saw him draw on the influences of his youth. He told us: ‘My grandmother was in the WI for ten years and my first exposure to decent homemade food came through her. She used to make this sorbet – it was an explosion of flavours and I can still remember it now. She had a recipe book that she made, her housewife recipe book. I used that book as a reference for each of the dishes – it epitomises the whole brief, I didn’t have to look too far for inspiration. Great British Menu was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve done a few competitions before, but I really loved this whole process and the planning – trying to push yourself and see how far you can go. Plus you’re cooking in front of 1.8 million people, which makes it even more interesting. It’s certainly very exciting and nerve-racking.’
We asked Matt what he still loves about cooking and about the hospitality industry: ‘You’ve got such a vast array of ingredients now, more than ever, with great, local suppliers coming through. I love the hospitality industry, I don’t just love cooking, I love eating as well. That’s why I keep having to go to the gym, because I love eating out. I love going to a bistro or a pub or a restaurant. All the main life events – whether it’s a funeral, a wedding, a christening, a birthday, there’s always food involved. I love the whole idea of a celebration and how it ties in with food. If you can embrace that and teach that to young people as well – train them up and see them go off and do really well – that’s the thing that’s exciting now.’
In 2016, Matt left Thornton Hall to take up a head role as head chef at The Latymer, replacing Michael Wignall. A year later, he won a Michelin star.