Matt Worswick - The North West regional winner in the Great British Menu
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 November 2015
Meet Matt Worswick - the man in charge of the kitchens at Wirral's Thornton Hall Hotel and Spa and a star of BBC's Great British Menu, writes Howard Bradbury
Matt Worswick’s love of food is, in a very real sense, written all over him. A large bouquet garni - the bundle of herbs fundamental to so many sauces - is tattooed across his right forearm. On the inside of the same arm is another inking of his own design - a large knife and fork. Across his right bicep are emblazoned portraits of his grandmother - his culinary inspiration - and his grandfather, set against a Liverpool skyline.
Aged just 26, Matt earned a Michelin star at Glenapp Castle in Ayrshire. Now 28, he has, for a year, been executive head chef at Thornton Hall Hotel and Spa, Thornton Hough, where the Lawns fine dining restaurant boasts three AA rosettes. Is there a star in the making?
‘You need to aim for the quality first, and happy customers, and then the star will come,’ says Matt. ‘Any chef would want a Michelin star. It’s the ultimate accolade in the industry.’
Matt has already survived the baptism of fire which is TV cheffing. Regional winner of the BBC’s recent Great British Menu and with a creditable performance in the final, he is clearly able to cook under pressure. That’s a valuable skill in his current job which, with the fine dining restaurant, bar, spa, function rooms and private dining rooms, could see his team of 22 chefs feeding up to 1,000 people a day.
If that seems a recipe for a tantrum-filled kitchen, think again.
‘The shouty chef is old-fashioned, it’s old hat,’ says Matt. ‘The job is hard enough without having a chef shouting and bawling at people. If you’ve got decent, happy chefs, that will show in the food.’
Raised in Old Swan and Tuebrook, Liverpool, his dad a carpenter, his mum a housewife, Matt recalls eating scouse and other wholesome home-cooked food, and also the treats prepared for him by his grandmother when he visited her in the Isle of Man.
‘I remember sorbets my grandmother used to make the old school way - in the freezer,’ says Matt. ‘I can still taste the lemon and thyme sorbet she made.’
Though he loved his food, Matt did not at first consider a career as a chef. Leaving school at 18, he was an apprentice joiner, an apprentice butcher (‘I lasted a week. I hated it, starting at 5am handling cold mince’) an office junior and a shop worker. Then he got a job in a three-star hotel in Garstang, then a four-star, then a five-star hotel, spending four years at the St Martin’s on the Isle hotel in the Isles of Scilly, working with chef Kenny Atkinson as he earned his Michelin star.
‘He really took me under his wing and showed me what a kind-hearted chef could be,’ says Matt.
The ‘finishing school’ for Matt was Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham, where David Everitt-Mattias won two Michelin stars.
‘The whole ethos is completely different to anywhere else I have worked,’ says Matt. ‘It’s a small team and the chef cooks every day. He’s never missed a service in 26 years. He’s dedicated to the restaurant. It’s his life. He’s virtually self-taught and has evolved his own style. I was there two years, and when I left I had progressed so much. I owe him a lot.’
A spell at Glenapp followed, but Matt was keen to get back to his roots and his family. Home now for him and Czech-born wife Eva - who is expecting their first child in April - is Upton.
Matt has spent the last year gradually stamping his style and character on Thornton Hall’s menus. What is that style?
‘Modern British is a cliché,’ he says. ‘I suppose it’s European influenced; bold, masculine, hearty, full of flavour, not pretty and very complicated. It’s flavour first. The idea with my food is that you should be able to taste it without a menu and say what the ingredients are. I’ve been to so many places where there’s 25 ingredients on the plate and I’m just a bit baffled.’
Where does the discerning chef go when someone else is doing the cooking?
‘I’m addicted to sushi,’ says Matt. Even supermarket sushi; it’s a decent product, light and flavoursome.’
You may also catch Matt at Claremont Farm, Bebington, enjoying something fresh and seasonal such as the asparagus.
How about a guilty foodie pleasure?
‘A pastie or a sausage roll..something old school,’ says Matt. ‘We sell more sausage rolls in this country every day than McDonald’s beefburgers.’