Magnetised by food and its enduring intrigue since childhood, Matt Abé’s curiosity and tenacity make him and the culinary industry a perfect match. Growing up, he was encouraged by friends and family alike, and it wasn’t long before he became a chef on television, just like those he once watched as a young boy.
“As I was growing up, I was very inquisitive, especially around food. Fortunately, my parents encouraged me to try different ingredients and cuisines, embracing the multiculturalism shared throughout Australia. I was also fascinated by cookery shows and loved helping my parents cook barbecues and entertain friends.
“When I was young, I had dreams of joining the defence forces or becoming a chef. I completed a week’s work experience in a professional kitchen, and I was hooked at the age of 16. I then left school to begin my apprenticeship and attend culinary school in Sydney. I worked at Aria under Matt Moran in Sydney and Vue de Monde under Shannon Bennett in Melbourne before making the move across the pond to England at the age of 21. I took a job at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s, where after two years, I joined the team at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, working my way up through the ranks from chef de partie all the way to chef patron.”
After more than 10 years of rising through the ranks, he took over as co-chef patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay when Clare Smyth left in 2020. Continuing to evolve the restaurant with his team is what Abé considers the greatest achievement in his career so far. But he’s only in his thirties, so there’s undoubtedly a lot more in store for the culinary star – especially after learning a trick or two from Ramsay himself.
“Gordon has an amazing eye for detail – he doesn’t miss a thing. Adopting this super-analytical approach has stood me in good stead running a three-Michelin-starred restaurant. The devil really is in the detail. Gordon is also a big believer in nurturing talent and helping people progress, and I have certainly gone on to do that with my team and to encourage others to do the same.”
As well as being a good leader, he’s also a go-getter. He’s determined, focused and forever on the lookout for a new challenge, and his cooking style matches his personality: always on the move, never stagnant. As such, his culinary philosophy has evolved over the years into a classics-inspired form as it stands at present.
“I would say that I take inspiration from classical dishes and techniques and present them in a modern, natural style, using a lot of acidity to create balance on the palate. I like bold flavours but use them in a refined way.
“I like to allow the products to speak for themselves, cook them in the simplest style and allow their flavours to be maximised. Texture is very important, and embracing the different flavours between a cooked and raw product, especially vegetables, is a key part of my cooking. As mentioned before, acidity plays a big part in all my cuisine, even the pastry. This is achieved using vinegars, citrus and a lot of pickles to create balance to rich dishes and moments of contrast on the palate.
“My creative process, as any, begins with an idea. I am constantly referring to my large library of cookery books for ideas and techniques. Usually, I will write my idea down with all the possible components that I feel might work together. Then I will draw the idea. Following this, I will start to prepare the ingredients with my team. We will taste the components and then start to plate the dish as we narrow down the final concept. Then I will try the dish with my senior chefs and head sommelier. We will then review and make any necessary changes until we are 100 per cent happy. Then we will continue to review as the dish makes it on the menu.
“I find my greatest inspiration comes from the seasons. Working with the world’s best suppliers allows me to work with the best products, from British asparagus to French pigeons and Australian truffles. Without good produce we are nothing in a restaurant, and we are so lucky to be in a position that people come to us to share their amazing produce. I have spent a long time building relationships with my key suppliers. Lake District Farmers is a business in Cumbria that has a small collective of farms with an entirely traceable process. This ensures that every step of the process is completed with the same precision and care that I apply in the kitchen. The Herdwick lamb we use comes from a handful of farmers, and is just one shining example of fantastic produce here on our doorstep in the UK.
“I also work very closely with Seed to Feed Microfarm, just south of Cambridge. I’ve developed such a good relationship with the owner Jake Ball that he will grow things specifically for me, and I’ve even been known to go and help with the planting. Nurturing these relationships means a lot to me, as it gives me the opportunity to impact what I see on the menu even before the produce has entered the kitchen, which is really exciting as a chef.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have a penchant for some of the finer ingredients available to us, such as veal sweetbreads, caviar, scallops, turbot and morels. But who doesn’t? I also appreciate and love the simplicity of the first spear of asparagus, the sweetest green pea, the earthy nuttiness of a Jerusalem artichoke and the candy-like flavour of a tiny wild strawberry. All of these ingredients bring a smile to my face year in, year out, and they sit beside each other proudly on my menus.
“One of my favourite dishes to put on the menu is roasted veal sweetbread with spring vegetables, Pommery mustard and beurre noisette. For me, this dish embodies the start of a new season, new life and nature starting a new year. I believe that creating a striking balance between the unctuous sweetbread and the spring vegetables. Fresh peas, broad beans, radishes, artichoke and a plethora of fresh, vibrant herbs, with the acidic bite of the Pommery mustard, is the epitome of my cooking style and philosophy.”
The restaurant has a trio of menu choices: À la carte, the Prestige tasting menu and the recently added Carte Blanche menu. The latter is a surprise menu, meaning diners are unaware of the dishes they will be served until they arrive at the table. This menu is especially exciting for the chef, as it gives him the creative freedom to experiment with new dishes. However, this doesn’t detract from the restaurant’s much-loved menu. The signature dish of lobster, salmon and langoustine ravioli has been on the menu – evolving ever so slightly – for more than two decades.
Other menu highlights include scallops from the Isle of Skye, ajo blanco, verjus and sea herbs; spring salad, smoked duck, hazelnut and elderflower; Cornish turbot, romanesco, courgette, black olive and basil; and pecan praline parfait, Pedro Ximénez wine and a cocoa-nib ice-cream.
As delicious as these dishes sound – and surely taste – it is not necessarily just the food that has led to the restaurant’s triumph. Matt explains: “Consistency is the number-one element that contributes to the success of the restaurant, followed closely by passion, drive and dedication. The people and what they give to the restaurant tirelessly day in, day out really make it what it is. Holding three Michelin stars for 20 years is the most significant award.
“The team at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay consists of 45 dedicated, highly motivated and driven individuals. I am very fortunate to work with such an amazing team, which includes Jean-Claude Breton, our maître d’, who has worked with Gordon since 1993. I always try to lead from the front, and inspire and motivate the team through conversation and leading by example.
“Our aim is to deliver such attentive, personal service that the guest feels completely comfortable throughout the meal, asks for nothing and is left remembering dining with us for years to come. Most people come to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay to celebrate a significant occasion, such as a milestone birthday or wedding anniversary. It is our responsibility to make this really special for them, to make them forget about time and the outside world and to give them a memory to treasure.
“Visiting a restaurant that has maintained such high standards for such a long time while continually evolving makes Restaurant Gordon Ramsay a great place to see the change and evolution of the London dining scene. The polished service and subtle ambience have been perfected over the many years; Restaurant Gordon Ramsay really has stood the test of time.”
For the first time in the restaurant’s history, however, it had to hit the pause button last year. But this wasn’t all bad, the chef believes: “Given the busy nature of running a restaurant, the pandemic has given us time to take a step back and analyse how we operate and press reset, which we would, of course, never have had the opportunity to do otherwise. So I think it’s good to try and take some positive out of such a negative situation. Personally, it’s given me the time to work on both my physical and mental health, I feel stronger and clearer than ever before, and am really looking forward to welcoming back guests and sharing our passion once again with renewed energy.”
As for the future? “We just want to continue to offer the most exceptional guest experience possible and welcome back old friends, make new ones and make memories. I will continue to support and nurture my team and keep evolving.”
To find out more about Matt Abé and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, visit the links below…
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay
68 Royal Hospital Road
London SW3 4HP
Online Reservations: gordonramsayrestaurants.com/restaurant-gordon-ramsay/book-a-table/
Tel: 0207 352 4441