Richard Swale is Head Chef of Allium at Askham Hall in Askham, England, which was awarded One MICHELIN Star in the 2020 Guide.
Eric Matthews is Chef de Cuisine at Chapter One in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, which was awarded One MICHELIN Star in the 2007-2020 Guides.
They talked to us about their memories, mentors and motivations…
How did it all start for you?I was interested in food at a very young age. I was brought up in a pub so hospitality is in my genes. I spent a lot of time fishing and shooting with my dad, and what we caught/shot I would help my mum prep and cook, which I loved. I started washing up at around 14 years old at a local hotel, so an insight into a kitchen helped me realise that I wanted to become a chef. If I had not followed this path I would have probably gone into farming in some way, and still hope one day I will also get the chance to do so.
Who influenced you early on in your career?Martin Burge helped me the most. He was very strict but ultimately he taught me discipline and how crucial every single step of the cooking process is – and he gave me a lot of confidence in myself. I remember him saying to me “one day you will thank me for this!”, and, at the time, after doing 16 hour shifts I thought ‘yeah, right!’ but I now feel thankful for what he taught me.
Where do you find your inspiration now?I have learnt from many chefs over the years and take bits from everyone and anyone – it’s also good to learn and see what not to do.
I get my day-to-day inspiration from the seasons and I’m lucky that I can walk out of the kitchen at work and there is a huge garden full of produce, so it really helps just taking a wander around and tasting a few things to help with ideas. Also my hobbies – fishing, shooting and rearing ducks and chickens (both for showing and eating) – all have parts to play in my food.
What advice would you give to young chefs?Go straight in at the top level and work your way up – there is no point wasting time in average restaurants learning how they do it when you can go straight to a top restaurant and learn the best ways of doing it. You start at the bottom anyway, so you might as well start at the bottom of a good restaurant than an average one.
I believe it’s you who decides the making of yourself by how much you put in and what you want to get out of it.
Do you wish you’d done anything differently and does that influence your goals?I wish I had spent maybe a couple of years working in some top Asian restaurants, as I love the flavours and cooking techniques they use.
I think at this stage my goals are to keep moving forward with the restaurant and keep learning new things – mainly just to enjoy it all and have a good balance of life and work.
Any final words?Be happy and never give in!
What are your earliest food-related memories?Being a Dubliner, some of my earliest food memories are enjoying fried ray wing in my grandmother’s kitchen on a Friday (cooked in lard of course and loads of vinegar!) I also remember going to a Michelin Starred restaurant in New York with my mother when I was just 11. I loved everything about it, from the décor to the waiters, and the experience has always stayed with me.
How did you break into cooking?I was always interested in food but it was my brother who really made me focus on cooking as a career as opposed to just a hobby. When I was 17 I started studying Business and Spanish but really, from the beginning, I knew it wasn't right. I applied to Culinary Arts School in DIT and dropped out of my Business course, and that was that!
I will always remember my first shift in a kitchen – it was at The Clarence Hotel in Dublin. I stood at the pass and just watching in awe at the energy, the stress, the attention to detail and the food; I was instantly hooked. In my early career Fred Cordonnier was a huge influence on me. He spent many hours teaching me the basics, from butchery to pastry.
Who has influenced your cooking the most over the years?The biggest mentor in my career has to be Ross Lewis (Owner and Head Chef of Chapter One). His wealth of knowledge and experience is something I draw from on a daily basis. Ross has not only influenced my cooking, he has also provided vast insight into the running of a successful business as a whole. Though I have worked for him on and off for over 8 years, the relationship really does feel like a friendship.
I’ve also had the privilege of working under other Michelin starred chefs, including Philip Howard at The Square, Derry Clarke at L’Ecrivain, and I also completed a ‘stage’ for 5 months at The Fat Duck.
I feel quite lucky that I have 2 people who have made me the chef I am today. Ross Lewis has been the biggest influence in my life and Philip Howard taught me what he calls ‘harmony of flavour’. If you combine Ross’ ability to showcase beautiful Irish produce intelligently with Phil’s natural style of cooking, you have something special.
What inspires you each day?My day-to-day inspiration comes from our suppliers and the changing seasons. I am constantly on the phone asking “what’s good?”, “what’s coming in?” and “what’s going out?” The strong relationship I have with my suppliers offers up incredible inspiration every day.
“For me, it’s the best career in the world.”
What’s the best advice you received when starting out?If you find something you love then you will never have to work for a living. Thanks Mam & Dad!
Do you have any advice for aspiring young chefs?Get into the best possible kitchen you can from the get go. It’s not the easiest job in the world but today it’s not the hardest job either. For me, it’s the best career in the world. I have absolutely no regrets about the path I took – I have loved this industry from the second I put on my whites. The current world situation may put into jeopardy the future of our industry, but if we can continue to improve every aspect of working in the hospitality sector, the future is bright.
How do you cope with the pressures of running a kitchen?I am a massive movie fan and I love music, especially jazz. I also love to run. These hobbies are my cut-off from the stresses of running a busy kitchen – which allows me to be 100% focused when I am in the thick of it.
What are your plans for the future?I am an extremely driven and focused person. I only think one way and that is to the future, I don’t really dwell on the past. My goals are a continued standard of excellence. I want to continue offering food to customers that is not only delicious but accessible, while pushing our standards forward. My motto is that “good enough” is never good enough.
Read the rest of our ‘Spotlight on Chefs’ series here:
Aktar Islam, Sally Abé, Stephen Stevens and Taylor Bonnyman
Alex Greene, Billy Boyter and Richard Craven
Marguerite Keogh, Mark Birchall and Rob Krawczyk