The Pass chef Matt Gillan on his Great British Menu success
PUBLISHED: 10:22 13 January 2016 | UPDATED: 10:22 13 January 2016
Matt Gillan, whose restaurant, The Pass at South Lodge, holds a Michelin star, triumphed on the BBC's Great British Menu with his original goat dish. Jenny Mark-Bell spoke to him about his winning streak
It is fitting that, as I take my seat in The Pass restaurant at Horsham’s South Lodge, my first glimpse of Matt Gillan is on a screen. In this case it is one of the CCTV screens set up to provide a view of the working chefs to all diners, but many of us have watched the Michelin-starred restaurant’s head chef on our own television screens recently on the BBC’s Great British Menu, with his goat main course being served at a banquet to celebrate a hundred years of the Women’s Institute.
Now the public have the chance to sample Matt’s dishes, including Teaching and Preaching, the dish awarded 10/10 by his judges and fellow chefs alike, at The Pass.
I was there with a group of my fellow journalists a couple of weeks after the final episode of Great British Menu (GBM) screened, and 34-year-old Matt seemed a little shell-shocked by the deluge of attention. This has been a busy year for him, he explained, with Great British Menu, a new baby and a house move all demanding his attention. This is all alongside his ‘day job’, where he leads a six-strong team of chefs, retaining the restaurant’s Michelin star for another year.
GBM viewers first saw Matt, a returning competitor, in the regional heats, where he competed against Lee Westcott and Mark Froydenlund to impress his former employer, Daniel Clifford, as regional judge.
Needless to say, he sailed through to the judges’ rounds. His goat dish went straight through to the final menu, and was served alongside those of fellow chefs Michael O’Hare and Richard Bainbridge at the historic banquet at Drapers’ Hall, London.
“The main course was actually the easiest to come up with,” said Matt, explaining that the timeline of dishes straddles the 70s and 80s, when the WI opened their teaching facility, Denman College. “That’s where the teaching idea came from. The goat just popped into my head when I was thinking about ‘waste not, want not’ and the pineapple was a nod to the 80s.”
The finished dish comprised shoulder of kid, barbecued, steamed and pressed, alongside a ballotine of the saddle. The kidneys and fillet were chopped and sautéed and the leg salt-baked in pastry. Individual herder’s pies (buttery mash topping goat ragu) were served alongside, and grilled pineapple completed the dish. On the programme, Matt said: “It’s a bit like a minimum waste, maximum use masterclass in goat.”
“Matt is my tip for the future,” said judge Oliver Peyton when he tasted it, while fellow judge and critic Matthew Fort was moved to kiss his empty plate.
Matt grew up eating goat and is evangelical about it, mentioning that it is as low in fat as skinless chicken. For five years he has worked with James Whetlor of goat meat producer Cabrito, who has long campaigned against the culling of male kids by the dairy industry. “As I was the first Michelin starred chef to start using goat, I became a figurehead. With Great British Menu it became more of a campaign,” said Matt, adding that there has been a great deal of interest in the dish from customers.
When the judges first sampled his main course, they loved it but said it lacked a story. Matt took them at their word and produced a beautifully illustrated story book in the style of a Grimm fairly tale, The Herder, which is served to diners alongside their meal. It beautifully fulfils the ‘teaching and preaching’, both of the dishes’ title the WI’s ethos. There is also a cheeky reference to a cook that will join the herder “to showcase this amazing story” – any guesses who that might be? There’s a hint that the two may end up collaborating in the future too, but in the meantime goat will stay on the menu at The Pass.
One of the striking things about Great British Menu was the cheery fraternity between the chefs. The finalists seemed to genuinely wish each other well and Matt agreed that was the case: after filming “we would go and find somewhere that was still open and have dinner together. We were all at the same level and there were no egos.”
He would do more TV “if the right thing came along”.
In his own kitchen, there’s a similarly democratic atmosphere: necessarily with an open kitchen there is no screaming and shouting, but one gets the impression that there wouldn’t be anyway. He is keen to foster learning and experimentation among his chefs. “When I made the transition to head chef no-one told me how to create dishes so I do that with the guys: I will say I want a salmon dish by Friday and they have to go away and think about it. That way they are putting into practice what they have learnt.” It seems that for Matt, teaching and preaching are not confined to the plate.
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