Chef Matt Abé

Ones to watch: Matt Abé

by Nancy Anne Harbord 25 June 2015

We interviewed up-and-coming talent, Matt Abé – head chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, one of only four establishments in the UK with three Michelin stars. Originally hailing from Australia, he has worked with the Gordon Ramsay group since he arrived in Britain in 2006.

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Specialising in vegetarian food, Nancy has cooked her way around Europe and now writes full time for publications and her blog, Delicious from Scratch.

Specialising in high quality vegetarian food, Nancy has worked in Vanilla Black in London, as well as other kitchens scattered around Europe. Most recently, Nancy trained under Gabriele Bonci in Rome, learning to make his famous take on pizza al taglio, before taking the knowledge back to Stockholm to help open and run The Artisan pizzeria. She also writes vegetarian and vegan food blog, Delicious from Scratch, and is now a full time food writer.

Every year when he was a child, Matt Abé’s mother asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He told us: ‘I think every year it alternated between being in the military and being a chef.’ He said it was ‘the routine, the discipline and the dedication’ that appealed. From his very first work experience placement in the kitchen, Matt Abé excelled. The head chef immediately spotted his enthusiasm and energy, and by the Friday of his first week he had secured a job. He told us: ‘That one week I had in the kitchen, I loved it, I really, really enjoyed it – the environment of working together and obviously being around food. I do love food.’

From then on, Matt Abé’s career was shaped by his drive to learn and to develop, with him absorbing everything a kitchen had to offer before moving onto the next challenge. Whether that meant pestering a head chef for weeks to secure a position or moving to the UK in search of new opportunities, he was focused and determined. His first job in Britain was working at Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, which then held one Michelin star. Within two years he had worked his way up to sous chef, but characteristically, felt that he ‘wanted a bit more, a new challenge’. He took at trial at the group’s flagship establishment, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, which has held the maximum three Michelin stars since 2001. He says he ‘fell in love with the kitchen and the atmosphere; I do love the pressure. I love how hard it can be sometimes and how hard it can get. Six years later, I’m chef de cuisine.’

Everyday I’m still learning – new produce, new techniques, new ways of looking at things.

Matt Abé

He told us that all the chefs he has worked with have given him some kind of inspiration: ‘At the end of the day, that’s why you go and work for them, because they give you that.’ He says that Matt Moran, then head chef at Aria in Sydney, was a big influence: ‘I worked for him for four and a half years. I was very loyal to him and he was very loyal to me. To this day I can still speak to him about anything. He always challenged me.’ Also Ryan Clift, who headed the kitchen at his next position, at Vue de Monde in Melbourne: ‘He also pushed me a lot. He had a lot of knowledge, lots of books that I could borrow. I was always asking questions about why things happen, constantly nagging him. I have always looked up to him as a big brother.’

Now working at the very top of his profession, he is still always on the lookout for inspiration and new opportunities to grow. He says: ‘Everyday I’m still learning – new produce, new techniques, new ways of looking at things. There are new things happening all the time, even new ways of doing something you’ve done before, using a different method. I eat out a lot and I think I’ve bought every single cookbook under the sun.’

He continues: ‘Obviously coming to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and working with Clare Smyth (executive head chef) is massively inspirational. There are new things I learn every day from her and she is always pushing us to never settle for what we’ve done and to always do better, never to sit on our laurels. There is always room for improvement.’

Although his career is still developing, he has a clear sense of his personal style. He says: ‘Food that inspires me, that I feel passionate about, is very classically oriented, with classic flavours. Taking a classic dish and making it slightly more modern, putting a twist on it. Nothing too crazy or out there – those are the flavours that I really enjoy. There are elements from all types of cuisines that I think you can pull together in a modern way, something that adds another element and creates balance and harmony.’

When asked what the future holds for him, he told us: ‘One day I would like to open my own restaurant and be a restaurateur as well as a chef – to have control and have a say in everything that I do. I’d like to be in a major city whether that be London, Melbourne or Sydney, using my classical background, but modernising certain things. I want to heavily follow the seasons and always be on the search for new products, to champion the produce of the country or place where I am based, from the local area, using local suppliers as much as possible. Aiming for the highest level I can achieve, but just doing what I want – if any accolades come, then they come, but I don’t want to chase that.’

We asked him what he still loves about working with food, after all these years:

image Chef Matt Abé
Chef Matt Abé
I love eating, I love food and I love trying new things. Just the simple things, such as a fresh strawberry or raspberry that is perfectly ripe, or an amazing piece of pork. It all gives you moments when you smile. I really enjoy coming into work and getting to work with amazing produce every day – I really appreciate everything I’ve got. I still have the same passion as when I started, the same feeling, the same desire. That’s the reason why I come to work every day.

Matt Abé