10 out of 10 – It doesn’t get Better for Matt Gillan

Matt Gillan might be one of the hottest names in the culinary world right now.

Head chef at The Pass at South Lodge in Horsham, he’s no newcomer to the scene however.

Matt first stepped foot in a professional kitchen as a teenager in the mid 90s when he got a job washing dishes and since then he has notched up stints at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Midsummer House, as well as a spell in Australia, before he joining South Lodge Hotel in Horsham almost ten years ago back in 2006 as a sous chef. A year later he was promoted to head chef, and in 2008 he was given the opportunity to head up the hotel’s brand new concept restaurant The Pass, which won its first Michelin star in 2011 and has retained it ever since.

With this kind of culinary pedigree, combined with his good looks and self-effacing charm you could be forgiven than Matt should have become a household name many years ago, but it was his appearance on this year’s Great British Menu, competing to cook at a banquet celebrating the centenary of the Women’s Institute, that really propelled him into the public eye.

Matt wowed judges Prue Leith, Matthew Fort, Oliver Peyton and WI member Felicity Cloake as well as former mentor Daniel Clifford with his goat dish, winning straight 10 scores from both his fellow chefs and judges – an achievement never seen before in the history of Great British Menu. And as a result of the clean sweep on the scoreboard Matt’s faultless main course dish, Teaching and Preaching, was put straight through to the banquet without a shortlist.

Showcasing every cut of the goat, Matt’s dish of twelve intricate elements included spiced slow-cooked goat shoulder, goat cheese, salt-baked goat leg, goat loin, goat fat dumplings, goat saddle with goat kidney and a Herders Pie comprising goat ragu topped with creamy mashed potato. It was inspired by Matt’s mother who hailed from St Helena and regularly used to cook goat at home.

Matt was understandably thrilled at the judge’s reactions. He said: “My dish is very personal to me – it’s more than just a plate of food – so it’s made my day for the dish to go to the banquet and to secure a place with ‘ten out of tens’ across the board is an unbelievable feeling.”

And his colleagues shared he delight.

Danny Pecorelli, Managing Director of Exclusive Hotels and Venues added: “Having seen Matt and other chefs from Exclusive compete in the competition before, we know the huge amount of work involved in preparing and taking part in the Great British Menu and we’re all extremely proud of Matt’s success during this celebrated series to cook at the prestigious WI centenary banquet. Matt is a truly creative and talented chef who is passionately resourceful so we’re delighted that a dish that means so much to him has got him through.”

Since his Great British Menu victory, Matt has been increasingly in demand, but he has remained very modest, still preferring to be at the pass than in the spotlight.

“I like doing TV,” he said. “But is has to be right. It’s not about me, it’s about what I am doing and the food.”

The many hours spent filming Great British Menu do mean however that Matt is used to working in front of a camera. And while it might seem that the addition of cameras in a busy kitchen in a high pressure situation might be a major hindrance, Matt said that they soon simply became part of the furniture.

“You are assigned one cameraman throughout the whole process,” he explained. “I quickly learned the first time that I did Great British Menu back in 2013 that as long as you let them know exactly what you are going to be doing then it’s really not a problem.

“That was probably the most helpful thing I learned from the first time though – other than that I don’t think having taken part before really helped at all!”

Filming for Great British Menu took began around a year ago, but Matt is still cooking all four of his dishes for diners at The Pass.

“I still enjoy cooking the goat dish,” he said. “The other courses give me a bit of grief sometimes but I still love the goat.”

Since Great British Menu aired there have been reports of an increasing demand for goat meat, with rumours that even online supermarket Ocado will soon add it to their stock. But according to Matt some people still aren’t sold on the idea.

“The reaction of 98 per cent of people has been great,” he said. “But you still get some who say ‘I can’t believe you’re cooking goat!’ I have been amazed at how alien the idea of eating goat still is to people though.”

The next series of Great British Menu has already begun filming but Matt won’t be taking part.

“I won’t do it again,” he said. “I got tens across the board and I cooked the main course at the banquet. It doesn’t get better than that!”

For more on Matt Gillan and South Lodge visit www.southlodgehotel.co.uk