Brits Abroad – Tom Matterface

30 November 2011 by
Brits Abroad – Tom Matterface

Tom Matterface is the executive chef of corporate dining at a major bank, looking after three sites for the Compass Group. He tells Janet Harmer why he has decided to settle in Charlotte, North Carolina

Can you give me a broad outline of your current position? I'm based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and look after the corporate dining for a bank here in Charlotte, as well as New York City and Washington DC. Our menu includes dishes which are simple, elegant, local, sustainable and seasonal. With the two main dining rooms situated on the 51st and 59th floors, it is the views that tend to wow people. I have 26 kitchen team members in the three locations and we usually cater for 30 to over 100 covers in each kitchen daily.

How did you get to move to the United States? I was head chef for corporate dining in the UK for Merrill Lynch with Roux Fine Dining/Compass Group. On one occasion when I was looking after a chef's table in the kitchen, the guests were in charge of opening a new client dining centre in NYC. They enjoyed what we were doing and said they wanted to introduce a similar style to NYC. I was asked by Compass and Albert Roux if I would be interested in the opportunity to work in the US as head chef. After five years in NYC, I moved to Charlotte in 2010 and now look after business in a more regional role.

How easy/difficult was it to arrange a working visa for the US? Compass Group is my sponsor and organised my visa, which I have to have renewed every three to five years. I don't have a guaranteed renewal, so it's always fingers crossed when we go through the application process. You also have to watch out for the I-94 card which tells you how long you can stay for. It needs to be in date and is as important as your visa.

How has working abroad enhanced your career? I was 24 when I moved over here, and had to grow up pretty fast and mature as a manager. The culinary standards weren't the same as in London when I first arrived, so I became one of the lead guys in corporate dining. Standards have really increased in the past few years.

Being in NY was amazing for learning and broadening my horizons about diverse cultures, from both a food and management level. I've combined ingredients and created new dishes which I would have never previously thought of.

I loved learning about pasta from my 91-year-old Italian landlady in New Jersey, as well as different foods from all over the US and South America from my colleagues.

What are the financial benefits of working in the United States? The cost of living is in line with the pay rate. I'm definitely better off living here than if I'd stayed in England.

What do you like about working in the United States, and in particular Charlotte? It is definitely the different cultures - especially from the culinary perspective - which makes this country tick. Charlotte is an up and coming city, but which is still connected to its roots. Everyone is in the rat race, but they still take time here to smile and be polite - it is old-fashioned southern hospitality. As a family man, this is where my wife Gemma and I want to stay with our two daughters, Ella, six, and Lily, three.

What do you dislike about working in the United States? The lack of personal drive from the majority of young cooks is a frustration rather than a dislike. I had a 10-year plan when I left college, but many of the guys around me are happy to stay where they are and not push themselves on.

What is the main difference between the corporate dining sector in the United States and the UK? In the UK we were able to serve any type of meat, game, poultry or fish without batting an eye lid. Here in the US you have to be more mainstream and go with what the majority would be comfortable eating.

1997-2000 NVQ level 2 and 3 in food preparation and cooking
2000-2002 Chef de partie, BAFTA, London
2002-2006 Chef de partie to head chef, Merrill Lynch Financial Centre, London
2006-2010 Executive sous chef to head chef, Merrill Lynch Conference & Client Centre, New York
2010 Corporate dining chef, New York
Executive chef of corporate dining, Charlotte, North Carolina

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