Chef of the Week: Petrus Madutlela, Head Chef of The Poet at Matfield in Tonbridge, Kent

How long have you worked at The Poet at Matfield?
I started working here to fill in time between jobs just over two years ago. The head chef at the time was offered a fantastic opportunity to work in the Caribbean, so luckily I was in the right place at the right time. Chris Salter, the owner of the business, offered myself and Restaurant Manager Andy Urbanek the opportunity to be his co-partners. I could see tremendous potential for The Poet, and the team are lovely, so I decided to stay.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
When I was a young teenager, my mum and dad worked long hours, so I used to cook for my six brothers and sisters. We lived in a tin shack in a township near Brits, South Africa. This was where I developed my passion for cooking, with guidance from my mum and using very simple ingredients.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The creativity, variety and adrenaline rush when the pressure is on.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Onion, water, salt.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
My teaspoon, so I can taste everything.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
The biggest trend is eating more healthily. I’ve noticed that many customers are reducing their meat intake. Plant-based foods and brain-boosting ingredients like turmeric are going to be big this year.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Not putting enough time and effort into training and inspiring the next generation of chefs. We’re also not good at work life balance.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Autumn when we can enjoy the harvest of orchards fruits, mushrooms, squashes, as well as the rich meat of game birds and venison.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
A lot of customers say they like our hake with mild curried broth, chorizo and mussels.

How do you come up with new dishes?
I read extensively for inspiration, and we are constantly experimenting to try different combinations of ingredients. If it works, it goes on the menu.

Who was your greatest influence? 
Desmond Morgan, who was Executive Chef at the Airport Sun Hotel in Johannesburg. He built my confidence, taught me the fundamentals of French cuisine and encouraged me to enter competitions.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Michel Roux Jr, Philip Howard and Thomas Keller

What is your favourite cookbook?
Larousse Gastronomique – a wealth of information on ingredients, classic recipes, techniques and great chefs in history who’ve shaped the cuisine of today.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Will Devlin, former Head Chef at the Windmill, now wowing diners with his pop up concept, No Fixed Abode; Oscar Volkmar, who brings the best out of fresh local produce at the Bell in Ticehurst, East Sussex; Scott Goss, the talented and creative executive chef of the I’ll Be Mother group, based at Restaurant Twenty Six in Southborough.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
To be honest, I’ve been flat out this year at work, and haven’t had time to check out any newbies, but I did have a delicious meal at the West House recently.