Matt Worswick eschews seasonal and local in favour of what every chef wants: great-tasting food. Katie Pathiaki reports
Matt Worswick isn’t your usual chef. He doesn’t bang on about local produce, hates the term ‘signature dish’ and didn’t grow up with a burning desire to work in a kitchen. “I wish I could recite some sort of fairy tale about when I used to cook scones with my grandma, but that never happened. I needed a job, which I found in The Caterer. No experience needed!” he says.
“Before my first kitchen job at St Martin’s on the Isles of Scilly, I was working in an office. My attention span is dead short, but because everything in the kitchen is really fast-paced, it kept me stimulated. I didn’t go to college – I just learned on the job.”
Since then Worswick has had a glittering Michelin-starred career at top establishments including Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire; the Elephant in Torquay, Devon; and Glenapp Castle in Ballantrae, Ayrshire, where he earned his first Michelin star at the age of 26. In 2014 he won an Acorn award.
In March 2016 he took over as head chef of the Latymer restaurant at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, Surrey. “You’ve got to take this job expecting that there are big boots to fill,” Worswick says, noting the previous tenures of Michael Wignall, Andrew Turner and Marc Wilkinson. It doesn’t faze him though: “A lot of people say to me that this is a big job and I agree, but you’ve got to do it, haven’t you? Thankfully, my food and Michael’s food are a totally different style, which I think has made the transition easier for customers.”
In February, the Laytmer underwent a refurbishment, giving Worswick the opportunity to put his stamp on the place. “At the beginning, it felt as if we were cooking in someone else’s restaurant. But when I took on the role, the hotel said it would do a refurb, which was great. We wanted to make it a bit fresher. It was very Nordic and beige and I thought it needed a bit more colour – turquoise is so underrated!”
The team of 10 chefs turns over around 450 covers a week and serves either a five or eight-course tasting menu. Worswick describes his style as modern European and he sources ingredients from all over the world. “People are always saying that local is best but that’s not always the case. Local is great as long as the product is good. Geography only comes into it so much – you have to be practical, too. I don’t think it’s enough any more to just be seasonal.”
At the time of visiting, Worswick has truffles from America, octopus from Asia and Galician beef from Northern Spain on the menu. However, some things are sourced right on the Latymer’s doorstep: the kitchen has its own herb and vegetable garden, as well as its own bees. Worswick is eagerly waiting for the beekeeper to arrive so he can put a honey- flavoured dessert on the menu.
The first dish on the eight-course menu, simply called ‘octopus’, is served with sesame and miso purée with kohlrabi and coriander. Worswick likes to start diners with this dish, even if they say they don’t like fish “If you can open them up and dare them from the beginning, they’ll trust you throughout,” he says.
The Australian truffles are served as an ice-cream with salt-baked celeriac in celeriac remoulade and lovage. “I like this dish because it looks simple on the plate. We like doing complicated dishes with an easy execution.”
Further along the tasting journey, the Galician beef makes an appearance. “When I first tasted this beef I thought it was incredible,” Worswick says. “The cows are 14 years old when they are slaughtered, instead of 18 months, and the result is a piece of meat that’s like butter.”
Worswick’s favourite dish is the chocolate delice, which is also a hit with diners. “It took me three weeks to get right and there are loads of technical processes behind it, but it looks simple on the plate,” he says. The delice is made from a hazelnut feuilletine base with a Caramelia chocolate mousse and a lighter chocolate mousse layered on top. Then it is frozen, dipped in a bitter chocolate glaze and filled with salted caramel. It’s served with gold leaf, salted caramel and a yoghurt sorbet. “It’s a dish that has evolved since I’ve been here,” he says. “It’s really elegant, but it’s also like being punched in the face by chocolate.”
The comment sums up Worswick’s philosophy on cooking: simple looking, great tasting, accessible food for all. “We are very clear on what we want to do and the direction we are going in. We are always aiming to get better, and accolades are a byproduct of that. Hopefully they will come in time. This is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to and it’s mine!”
From the menu
Octopus Sesame, miso, coriander
Cure foie gras Pickled simiji, prune and tamarind
Butter-poached pollock Puffed black rice, taramasalata
Confit pork belly Fermented cabbage, barbecue apple purée
Wagyu beef Sirloin, wild garlic pesto, snails
Lemon cream Buckwheat, sorrel sorbet
Chocolate delice Salted caramel yoghurt sorbet
From the eight-course tasting menu, £75
Matt Worswick at the Latymer
Pennyhill Park hotel
Surrey GU19 5EU