"... She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs; But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears ..."

Friday, 8 April 2011

The Shy Chef

Is it any wonder on a day such as this, that I head over to Pythouse Garden at the earliest opportunity? I am planning on catching up with head chef, Matt, and it is not long before we are sat in the sun dwelling (it has to be said a bit smugly) on previous lives spent in air conditioned offices and stressful, strip-lit kitchens.
Matt isn't really a shy chef, but he is reluctant to have his photograph taken today. I think he appreciates that during my gardening year I will insist on capturing him for the blog. It is just a matter of time! What he is certainly not shy about, is sharing his enthusiasm for his plans for the kitchen, the menus and the shop's deli produce.
He is working closely with Heather (the shy gardener ... she doesn't stand a chance either) and he is passionate about following the seasons and bringing the garden produce to the table in fresh and interesting ways. They both feel the food will evolve as the garden evolves; an exciting year of experiment for them - and us.
Matt has a huge amount of experience for one so young (maybe it is me, but chefs and policeman are looking remarkably youthful these days). He has cooked in city restaurants with bars and delis, for prestigious caterers, in country hotels with walled gardens, and has built the reputation for food in rambling beamed pubs. But when he came to see Pythouse Kitchen Garden he could not resist the opportunity to create exceptional food in such wonderful surroundings .
Matt views the garden and potting shed as blank canvases on which he can paint his gastronomic mark. However, he is keen not to take himself our his creations too seriously. "That would be out of keeping with the garden and the people" he explains, "The food should be fun and exciting, but not pretentious."
Matt started his own box of recipes when he was 16 and has been adding to this ever since. Sometimes he comes to new ideas by mulling over old favourites and adding a twist, at times it is a new combination that strikes him. Or it may be that the cooking just develops; as it did today when he created his Beetroot, apple & honey soup. "I knew that apple would be a good compliment to the beetroot but wanted to soften the tang, which is where the honey came in." Luckily for us he has promised to share some of his recipes in the course of the year.
The garden is just starting to respond to the spring sunshine that is warming the sandy soil. The turnips have just come up, the potatoes are now planted and in the herb beds, chives are emerging from a carpet of pale blue germander speedwell. Soon there will be a multitude of ingredients for Matt to choose from.
As the garden settles into growth it is time for small feet to head for the daisies rather than to be pottering in the busy beds.
I reluctantly leave the garden for the day, passing the closed kitchen door behind which the shy chef is busy scheming.

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