“The days of bullying chefs are over.”
Matthew Ryle from Masterchef: The Professionals is helping to bring forth the era of the kind, team focused chef. We spoke to the man who’s all about talent, not tantrums.
Matthew Ryle stood out for us as the coolest one of the final four in Masterchef: The Professionals 2018, and only serious self-control prevented us from smashing every window in our own house when he didn’t make the final. Reading-born Matthew wanted to be a chef from a young age, and then had his hat blown off when his mum took him to a Michelin starred restaurant when he was 15, where he quickly bagged his first job. After catering college and a chef’s scholarship he trained at The Dorchester, before eventually hitting our screens on the show last year. Currently on tour with the finalists, 2019 is set to be a big one for not just a fast-rising chef, but an inspirational good guy.
Have things changed for you since Masterchef, and what have you been up to?
They’ve definitely changed. I don’t know if I feel any different as a person, but I wasn’t stopped in Tesco’s before when I was buying a pint of milk. But we’ve been doing pop-ups as the final four, basically going on a big tour where people can come along and taste the dishes from the show. It’s lovely meeting 100 odd people each night who are excited by it all.
Is it a relief to be able to do the dishes without the pressures of actually being on the show?
Yeah it’s good to be able to take a bit more time on them. We’ve all slightly reworked the dishes, as on the show it’s hard to get them exactly how you want in an hour and a half. We’re now able to get them how we wanted them in the first place.
How hard is it on the show? Is what we see on the screen the reality of how it is being on there?
It was harder. You practice in your own kitchen you know where everything is, like where the hot part of the stove is, but when you’re thrown into a new kitchen, it takes time to get used to it. After the first few cook offs you do get used to it, but it’s high pressure. You’re in a room with 6 to 8 other chefs all running around like mad. It’s a seriously intense environment.
You seemed to get on with the others…
Yeah the final four do, we message everyday. We are going to be doing a getaway with all the four families in the Lake District, so we get on really well. The producers said they’d had guests on in the past who wouldn’t speak to each other. They’d be very closed off about their dishes, whereas us, if you watch the shows you’ll see we’d help each other. We all wanted to win but its wasn’t a cut-throat competition.
Do you think things are changing for chefs in that way in general? Are the old ideas of the angry bullying chef disappearing?
It’s definitely changing, everything is changing. You can’t speak to people like that anyway, and you definitely can’t be working with people like that, doing 100 hours a week. I’ve worked in kitchens where you’re worked so hard you turn into a zombie. It’s counter-productive. In my last restaurant we really tried to give people a work-life balance, they’d work split shifts, they could come in early and have a whole evening off. Everyone was treated with respect, whether you’re washing dishes or a sous chef. If you don’t treat people with respect they’ll just leave. Everyone is hungry for good chefs, they’re like gold dust, and if you’re a good chef you can walk out of one place and find another one the next day. So really it’s about holding onto your staff and building a strong team who are all happy to work together.
The age of the big ego is over?
Definitely. It’s a team game. No one chef can run a restaurant.
What made you interested in becoming a chef as a kid?
I guess it was school. At home it was sandwiches and roast dinners and spag bol, those few dinners I would always help with. I think it wasn’t until I got to school that I realised how vast the scope was of what you could do in the kitchen. At school I was making cakes and baking bread, pretty simple stuff but it did open my eyes up. And at that stage I said to my mum that I wanted to become a chef. At 15 she took me to the local Michelin starred restaurant which was another step up. I’d never even eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant I was used to pub-grub restaurants. And then to step into that kitchen to work, where they had me plating up ridiculous Foie Gras Terrine, and seeing how perfect everything was, it was at that moment that I thought I really wanted to go for it.
We see chef’s cooking skills on TV but how much do you have to work on your palate to understand whether a dish is working or not? Do you have train at it, or does it just develop with experience?
I think it’s something you develop. The more you try, the better your palate becomes. the dishes I did in the first couple of years as a chef make me cringe, as you just develop so much as a chef. You learn, it’s not just duck and orange that go well, but duck and something sweet and sour. So you substitute the orange for rhubarb, or whatever it is. Ollie from the show
is big on foraging. He’ll take things that he picked from the wild and add them to a more normal product, so he has a big understanding of flavours that go together. It all comes with time and experience, you’re not born with the best palate in the world.
Is the experimentation and creating new dishes the best bit about being a chef?
Yeah building a dish is why everyone does it. You get a great buzz out of a busy service but the creation part and being able to make people happy is why people are drawn to chef-ing.
On real services are you the calm and collected character we see on screen?
Yeah I’m very much that person on screen. In Masterchef you’re under so much pressure that you don’t have time to put on a front, you’re true personality just comes out, I’m extremely calm but I’ve worked in places in the past where chefs have lost control and everything just crumbles around them. Even when I feel I’m notin control I make sure I look like I am so it doesn’t fall apart.
How did you learn to handle the mental pressure?
I think to a degree it has to be part of you anyway. The chefs who just can’t handle the stress of a busy service may not find a way to deal with that. Some people are creative but can’t handle service, some people are good at service but aren’t that creative. I was blessed with a cool head, luckily. Even at the Young Chefs of the Year which I did as a teenager in front of a crowd, as soon as I finished, people were saying how ridiculously calm and under control I looked. I’m unaware of it at times.
You need creativity as a chef, but how important is it to be diligent and disciplined?
I am borderline OCD. If you saw my flat, you’d understand, everything has its place. It’s healthy, I’m not a psychopath but my girlfriend sometimes gets told off if she moves something. In the kitchen systems become part of you. Due diligence checks before service slowly build over the years and it gets to the stage where you get to be a product of all the restaurants you’ve worked in.
How do you relax away from the kitchen?
When the weather is nicer I like to do a bit of fishing. A day by a lake is nice even if you don’t catch anything. Fresh air makes you forget everything. It’s not even about getting away from work, it’s about getting away from your phone.
Are you an Instagram junkie?
Not that bad, but I am aware of that world more since the show, and now see it as almost part of the job. I have a small following to entertain or they might leave me.
Is there a dish you hate because you can’t do it?
Toad in the Hole. I’ve not attempted it for five years now. My mum was rubbish at it and then I was crap at it, I attempted it 4 times in a row once and it was never good. Maybe if I tried again now I could do it, but I’ve never done a good one before. I’m not going to sleep tonight because you brought it up.
What’s the crappest junk food that you can’t ever leave behind?
SuperNoodles. I had a packet for lunch yesterday. That’s the thing you’ve always got in your cupboard when you’ve got nothing else in your house. You can hear it calling to you, you can’t help it.
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