Chef Matthew Hodgett is a teaching chef at Le Cordon Bleu London, one of the world's leading culinary arts, wine and management school in Great Britain. He first started working at Hanbury Manor and later Gravetye Manor, where he helped them earn their first Michelin Star. Throughout his career, Chef Matthew has gained experience at the InterContinental Hotel, the American Embassy, and Claridges, as well as working as Head Pastry Chef for the Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Wentworth Golf Course. His tremendous experience has provided him with insights into the culinary world which he would like to share with audiences in India on his first visit here.
Chef Matthew Hodgett, recently, chose a co-working space for a food workshop. According to him, "WeWork globally is a platform where such a varied set of people across age groups and organizations from various sectors come together to work. Also, a collaborative space like WeWork has a lot of creative people around and I am hoping to imbibe some of this energy as well as share my journey with them."
In an exclusive interview with Restaurant India, Chef Matthew Hodgett says, "We can enhance the taste by complementing the flavours and traditions of India with French savoir-faire."
What about the Indian culinary scene attracts you?
During my tour in India, I was able to meet with Chef Manish Mehrotra from Indian Accent. He is one to showcase inventive Indian cuisine while complementing the flavours and traditions of India with global ingredients and techniques. While Le Cordon Bleu is all about transmission and education to the highest level, it is also about how to equip one with the techniques to complement any gastronomy and sublime it. Hence in our discussions, we highlighted how by complementing the flavours and traditions of India with French savoir-faire, we can enhance the taste.
Also, India has such a huge repertoire of cuisines and ingredients, there are all the elements to inspire a chef like me to create and innovate.
Why did you choose patisserie as your specialization?
My Uncle was a chef, so I was introduced to cuisine from an early age. However, I always seemed to have a flair for pastry which I think came from baking cakes with my Mum, Nan and Aunty. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, we used to take the cakes over to my granny and the rest of the family. In time I really enjoyed making and decorating them. It only later that someone told me that I had the mentality and patience to be a teacher, so that has also always been in the back of my mind. Passion and determination have done the rest to lead me to where I am now.
You've cooked for some of the biggest names in the world. But as a chef what have you found more pleasurable and challenging: to cook for someone like the Queen or a person who walked into one of the restaurants you are associated with?
They are both the same, both are important to cooking for and the pleasure is if you hear who it was for.
Indeed, in the end, you have to remember that it's a job, but yes the pressure gets to you when you meet them. I think there is a slight panic when you realise you're cooking for a VIP, but it's only because you want to deliver excellence and please them. Your training then prevails, and you remember the extremely high standard that you work to every day. Only let yourself panic when you meet them, but don't let it get to you in the kitchen.
As a chef what/who has been your worst nightmare?
Making sure we have made enough desserts, and have enough ingredients to make them. If you see, today, desserts are more like a piece of art with heavy sugar decorations, etc. But as a chef what's most important to you - the look or the creation and taste of the actual dish?
Both the look and the taste are important. There is nothing like biting into a dessert that looks amazing but the taste is not there and vice versa. If you want excellence, you need both in terms of taste and in the presentation.
You are British born and ask someone what is British cuisine and they'll say 'fish & chips' or 'shepherd's pie'. How would you define it?
It's not just fish and chips anymore, the food scene has changed drastically over the last decade. There is a lot of variety in styles of cuisines, but also a lot more quality and creativity than it was ever. Yes indeed, we have a lot of 5-star hotels that produce very high standard afternoon teas, where scones are served along with all the traditional preparations one would expect but English cuisine is so much more than a cucumber sandwich or a pie. A lot of different overseas influences and ingredients have been incorporated and a British dish is much more colourful than one would imagine. British food is enjoying a new era, with bright and innovative young British chefs at its forefront.
Chocolate seems to be the favourite dessert ingredient around the world. But chocolate is chocolate. How much can one get innovative with it?
I couldn't disagree more. Chocolate is indeed an ingredient but look at you can do with it: cakes, truffles, tarts, ice creams, chocolate sculptures. It comes in different shapes and consistency. It is either edible or artistic, liquid or hard. Chocolate is a minefield for creativity and innovation for all who'd like to take on the techniques of its manipulation and creation.
With cookery and baking shows such as the Great British Bake Off, MasterChef etc, being a chef has now become a mainstream profession as compared to maybe 20 years ago. Do you agree? If yes, why do you think such shows are so influential or have there been other reasons?
Yes I agree, it influences the young generation, there are even junior master chef programs, and we find that our junior short courses at Le Cordon Bleu in London are ever more popular.
These are great to show off talents in the kitchen, but also inspire a whole generation into better eating at home.