Matt Abé, Chef de Cuisine for Clare Smyth at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road

The Staff Canteen

Matt Abé is the recently-appointed chef de cuisine working under Clare Smyth at three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

The 28-year-old chef moved from Australia at the age of 23 to experience the adrenaline and the history of working in top British restaurants. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out if the reality is living up to the dream…  

How did you first get into cooking?

I grew up in Sydney, Australia and I always had two dreams: either to be a fighter pilot or a chef. At the age of 16 I did a week’s work experience in a kitchen and at the end of the week the chef called me in to his office and asked if I’d ever thought about doing it for a living. I left school a week later and started work.

Was the UK always on your radar as somewhere you wanted to work?

I grew up watching lots of cooking programmes from the UK like Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Boiling Point’. My dad once said to me: “Do you think you could work for Gordon Ramsay?” and I said: “Yes, one day…” So yes the UK was always on my radar: there was a lot of hype in Australia for the big British chefs like Gordon and Marco Pierre White and their kitchens looked like hard places to work but hard in a good way; it all just really appealed to me – the stories people told me and all these grand buildings and grand restaurants that have been around for years.

How did your career bring you to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay?

I spent four and a half years working at a restaurant in Sydney called Aria under a chef called Matt Moran. From there I moved to Melbourne at the age of twenty one where I worked for a chef called Shannon Bennett at a restaurant called Vue de Monde as a chef de partie. I was there for about two years. Then in 2003 I was due to be the best man at a friend of mine’s wedding in Scotland, so I set that as my deadline for when I would move over here. I got a job as chef de partie at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s through Matt Moran, who was a good friend of Gordon’s. I was there for about two and a half years before moving to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 2009. I started as a chef de partie and I’ve just recently been made chef de cuisine.

What was it like becoming chef de cuisine and how are you coping?

It was a very humbling experience and a very rewarding moment to have all that trust put in you after all the years of hard work getting to that position. You have to elevate yourself 
again; it’s you in the spotlight now; it all rests on your shoulders and you’re the one accountable for anything that goes wrong.

And of course you have the added weight of upholding three-Michelin-star standards. How do you deal with that kind of responsibility?

I’ve been moving into the position gradually and taking on more and more responsibility as I’ve gone along so you’re always moving on and always advancing. Most of all it’s something I’m very proud of and proud to be a part of. I put my heart, my soul and my life into this restaurant. I’ll do anything: come in early; stay late; come in on a day off – that’s the passion that’s conveyed through everything we do here. Everyone is willing to go that extra mile to provide the service we give our customers.

You dreamed about working in a grand European restaurant with years of history behind it; now of course you’re in one, both as Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and in its previous incarnation as La Tante Claire; how does that feel?

It’s amazing to be here and think about all that history; all the great chefs that have stood at the stove over the years. It’s not the exact same stove of course but it’s modelled around the original and the sections are all in the same positions as in Pierre Koffmann’s original kitchen. When I first came here there was a Le Creuset pot that was very well-used that we used to blow-torch peppers on. I don’t know if it’s true or not but everyone says that was Pierre Koffman’s Le Creuset pot.

You’ve come up through the ranks of the Ramsay organisation; is good training something you are keen to pass on to the chefs working under you?

When guys come in here we teach them the correct way to work and our philosophies here, whether that’s simply how to cut through an onion; where to put your rubbish or just how to work neatly and cleanly. At the end of the day it’s about putting time into someone but they also have to want to give that time back. We’ve had some guys in here who struggled a bit at first but with a bit of TLC and a bit of investment of time and their own willingness to learn, they’ve turned out to be brilliant, very talented, very motivated chefs.

We’ve got a young 21-year-old lad at the moment who cooks the meat; he found it difficult at first because he’d never managed people and run a section before but he’s come on massively and taken on a massive responsibility.

Do you see yourself opening your own place in the future?

I’d love to run my own restaurant maybe in two or three years’ time, that’s the dream for me; whether it’s over here or whether it’s in Australia I haven’t really decided yet. It’s about finding myself as a chef and building my confidence all the time, knowing that what I do is always to a high level. One day I hope that I can do great things and teach everything I’ve learned to a new generation of chefs.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th September 2013

Matt Abé, Chef de Cuisine for Clare Smyth at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road