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Matthew Whitfield chef

Meet the chef: Matthew Whitfield, head chef at The Montagu Arms, Brockenhurst in the New Forest, Hampshire

By LLM Reporters on 1st August 2021

With extensive experience working in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park in New York, Matthew Whitfield returns as head chef at the award-winning three AA Rosette Terrace Restaurant at The Montagu Arms in Brockenhurst.

Passionate about creating a theatrical and memorable experience for every guest, Whitfield is responsible for the menus at the restaurant, as well as running the kitchen on a day-to-day basis. He also oversees a team of 12, ensuring each dish is served to his impeccable standards. Whitfield’s menu focuses on experimenting with local and seasonal ingredients, whilst also drawing inspiration from people or experiences, from the places he’s worked at across the globe, to his childhood and cooking in the kitchen with his grandmother.

Previously sous chef at three-Michelin starred Eleven Madison Park in New York, voted ‘Best Restaurant in the World’ in 2017, Whitfield is not short of experience in creating world-class cuisine. From 2014 to 2017, he was head chef at the one-Michelin starred restaurant at The Driftwood Hotel in Cornwall, and before that sous chef at two-Michelin starred Seagrill Restaurant in Brussels.

A 2017 Roux Scholarship finalist, Whitfield’s extensive career includes training at two-Michelin starred The Vineyard in Stockcross; and he held the position of junior sous chef at Marco Pierre White’s Yew Tree Inn in Berkshire. He also previously worked at The Montagu Arms between 2006 and 2007 as demi chef de partie, and from 2009 to 2013, rising up to junior sous chef.

We caught up with the experienced chef to hear all about his influences, his love of fish fingers and how he always knew he would work at The Montagu Arms.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?

Having returned from New York in 2019, I joined The Montagu Arms Hotel and shortly after bought my first house. I recently got engaged to my girlfriend, Emma and we are planning our wedding for late next year. I focus on my fitness in my spare time and enjoy playing squash and running, it gives me a chance to switch off. It has always been my dream to work as The Montagu Arms – I first joined when I was 18 as a commis chef and after moving onto other roles, when the head chef position came up at The Montagu Arms when I returned to the UK I knew it was meant to be.

The Montagu Arms Hotel
The Montagu Arms Hotel is located in a quiet corner of The New Forest. Image credit: KenRockwell.com

What or who inspired you to become a chef?

My grandmother gave me my first cooking lessons in her kitchen when I was a child. When I was about six or seven, I was in the back of my grandparents’ car and we drove through Beaulieu. I saw The Montagu Arms and I asked her what it was. She asked me why and I said, I’m going to work there one day. There was just something about it. I looked through the door and it was all dark inside. I didn’t have a clue what it was – it could have been somebody’s house – but I just knew I would end up working here.

Years later, when I finished catering college in Eastleigh, my grandmother saw an advert for a commis chef at The Montagu Arms. She rang up and arranged for me to have an interview. I started at The Terrace at 18, before leaving to join Marco Pierre White at his famous Yew Tree Inn in Highclere.

Who has been your biggest influence to get you to where you are today?

Marco Pierre White. His kitchen was so intense; it was a hard, fast paced, and you really had to move. What I learnt there allowed me to hold my own in every place I’ve ever worked.

I ate at Sat Bains’ restaurant years ago and that completely changed the way I thought about food. I had a ten-course tasting menu and I left feeling really pleasant and relaxed; I didn’t feel full up. I think that if you go for dinner to relax, but you get really full up, your body almost panics, and that’s not relaxing. If you finish feeling comfortable, you will enjoy it more. It made me realise how important the balance of flavour is in a meal.

What’s your signature dish?

I don’t really have one but we have dishes that stand out in each season and one of our favourites is wild Hampshire mallard with glazed quince, rose hip and a swede hotpot, the quince and rose hips are picked from the hotel kitchen garden.

Do your personal preferences influence the menu at all?

Every dish I create means something to me, and everything I put on the plate has a purpose. The New Forest is where I’m from and anything from around here means something to me. I love the fact that I can feel a real connection to the ingredients.

Some of my dishes are inspired by people, and some of my dishes stem from the simple things I’ve loved, like my mum’s roast lamb, or the corned beef, beetroot and mayonnaise sandwich my dad used to make that is still the best sandwich in the world.

The Montagu Arms Hotel
Matthew’s cooking style is produce and flavour driven with focus on locality

How would you describe your cooking style?

My style is definitely produce and flavour driven with focus on locality. Supporting local, independent producers is so important to me and I really enjoy engaging with them and feeling that they are a part of what we do.

Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?

Autumn is my favourite, being able to cook really hearty rich food with root vegetables and Game. We get the most amazing venison from right here within the Beaulieu Estate which we butcher ourselves and treat with the utmost respect, using every part of the animal.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?

I ate a fish-eye for a charity bush tucker-style challenge and it was awful – hard, chewy and not something I wish to eat ever again!

What’s your favourite flavour combination?

Isle of Wight Tomatoes and Isle of Wight Gin.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?

I think I would have been a professional squash player and would like to help my dad in his brewery.

What is your favourite dish to cook at home?

Stuffed peppers with couscous and spicy tomato sauce, it’s simple, light and delicious.

When are you happiest?

Sat in a pub garden with my fiancé in the sunshine with a pint and chips.

What is your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?

The Kitchen BBQ (Conro Grill). I like the flavour it gives the food and the fact that you can really connect to what you are cooking, you really focus on it and although it is rustic, it is elegant at the same time.

The Montagu Arms Hotel
Matthew feels strongly about highlighting local and seasonal produce

When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?

In a pub or on a squash court.

What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?

I’ve got to say I really love fish fingers. I have done ever since I was a kid and I ate them with my brother, and now they make a great quick snack for when I just need some comfort food.

Where is your favourite place to dine?

Porters Charcuterie in Southampton, it’s always consistently delicious and they do English cheese, charcuterie and great wine really well.

What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend?

Banana Bread!

What do your future plans entail?

Being happy and achieving all I can in my career.

How have the lockdown restrictions affected your work?

Although I couldn’t be in the kitchen, it gave me a great opportunity to reflect on our food offering, our suppliers and a chance to build an even stronger team. It’s given me the opportunity to reimagine the menus we offer, and we have introduced a four-course menu to run alongside our tasting menu to showcase the incredible produce.

What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?

Showcasing the amazing local produce we have access to in the New Forest has always been a priority for me when creating my menus for The Terrace at The Montagu Arms. This summer, I really wanted to kick that up a gear and make locality and seasonality the focal point for the entire menu whilst always considering sustainability throughout our menus.

How would you describe the food you create at The Montagu Arms to someone who’s never experienced your kind of food?

The food at the Terrace at the Montagu Arms is completely produce and flavour driven. We feel very strongly about highlighting local and seasonal produce, where possible, throughout all our menus. We like to showcase a variety of different cooking and serving techniques, presenting our food simply and elegantly with a big flavour impact.

The Montagu Arms Hotel
Matthew and his team present their food simply and elegantly with a big flavour impact

How do you go about menu planning? What’s the process from picking the ingredients to getting them fresh into the kitchen and into dishes?

Our menu planning happens quite naturally. For instance, we start by choosing an amazing piece of meat or fish from one of our local suppliers and then see how we can develop the flavour of that ingredient through different cooking techniques – do we water bath it, barbecue or classic roast? etc. When we decide this, we then turn to our own garden and local forest fruits and vegetables for further inspiration. Often we’ll create our own interpretation of classic flavour combinations but always with relevance to the New Forest in mind. We have fun with playing with dishes and taste them all as a team before they go on the menus. 

What differences do you find working with local produce as opposed to non-local produce in terms of what you can create and flavour? 

When I source ingredients I like to be able to visit the farm and see how the animals are reared or in what environment crops are grown – this ensures quality and that our ethical standards are aligned. Local produce also inevitably has had less transit time than those sourced from further away. This ultimately means the food is going to be fresher, and taste better, as you are serving it at its very best.

What does New Forest produce have that makes it unique? What’s your take on why the New Forest is so passionate about its local food?

It’s the commitment to protecting culture, wildlife and traditions of the New Forest that make it really special. For example, The New Forest is one of the only locations that still practices pannage, a tradition where pigs are released into the forest to forage for acorns and other nuts, as these are poisonous to the New Forest ponies. This process lasts a minimum of 60 days and the end result is the most delicious pork which is deep in flavour.

How do you find your customers respond to your use of local ingredients?

Our guests expect local produce and it has to be the best. Our customers respect and enjoy the fact we are so driven and dedicated to our local ingredients and suppliers. They are really interested in getting to know where we source our ingredients from, how we use them and cook with them and it is so great for us to see the level of interest in what they are eating. It makes our job even more enjoyable. 

Factbox

Montagu Arms

Address: Palace Ln, Beaulieu, Brockenhurst SO42 7ZL
Phone: 01590 624467
Website: montaguarmshotel.co.uk

Food images courtesy of Jodi Hinds Food Photographer