“The draw of the kitchen was where I saw my future”, says Matt Woodhouse, executive chef of Deli style Melbourne café, New Order in Prahran.
It’s a realisation that came later in Matt’s career in hospitality than probably quite a few chefs we have interviewed at Life on the Pass. Many fondly recall their childhood as the time when a passion for cooking was first awakened in the family kitchen.
Working in restaurant kitchens at the age of 16
For Matt, the journey actually began in his birthplace, the UK, working in restaurant kitchens at the relatively young age of 16. At the same time he was studying sound engineering at university. But Matt’s inner chef’s voice was yet to make itself heard.
However, following a season working among the ski chalets in the French Alps, Matt decided to move into restaurant management.
“I left the UK in 2013 and went on to run a number of venues including cafés, catering businesses and deli’s in both NZ and Australia including, a brief stint running a pop up at Sydney Opera House”.
Experimenting with Japanese flavour profiles
Building up a wealth of experience at every change of venue and kitchen, Matt recognises just how much his approach to cooking has changed.
“My style of food has evolved over the years. I trained in European food but tend to draw on middle eastern flavours”.
Matt highlights “Australia’s cultural diversity”, which he knows has broadened his culinary knowledge on Asian flavours, “In particular, experimenting with Japanese flavour profiles, and how simply they treat the ingredients to get the best out of their produce”.
“Talking to my staff is key for managing mental wellbeing in the kitchen”
As you might expect, Matt’s knowledge extends to handling those ever-present pressures, and the build up of stress in the restaurant kitchen. Most chefs tend to share a common view that ‘staff support’ is essential and Matt says he adopts an identical management approach.
“Talking to my staff is key for managing mental wellbeing in the kitchen. I may be an over-communicator, but for me, it’s so important to know how they are feeling. I always ensure they understand that I am there to support them when they need it, and develop them and their skill set. I am all about sharing the knowledge I have gained in my career”.
Spare time experimenting with new flavours and techniques
Time away from the pass is of course critical to managing mental wellbeing too, and like so many experienced chefs, Matt values those enduring recreational favourites.
“Eating good food and drinking good wine away from the pass is what I take a lot of enjoyment from. Spending time with my wife, catching up with friends, heading down the coast when we can, and going to the gym are all ways I relax. For me food is my passion! A lot of my spare time involves researching and developing recipes, and experimenting with new flavours and techniques”.
“Asking for help will make you a better chef”
Matt says he’s “still learning every day”, as any true professional is proud to admit. He offers his approach as a life long discipline to any young chef just starting out in their career. “Asking for help is always encouraged, which will make you a better chef, and always seek mentorship regardless of your position”, adding, “The best advice I can give is to dream big but take your time, don’t rush into a job until you feel you are ready.”
Looking forward to his own future, the fast pace of past years definitely looks set to keep him busy with his passion for cooking and hospitality. Despite the challenges of the global epidemic.
“We had to let go of half our staff – I cried in the kitchen that day”
Matt had only opened New Order in Prahran some three months before Australia went into lockdown, “We had to let go of half our staff, that was very tough – I cried in the kitchen that day”. Overnight, the space was adapted and changed to a deli takeaway, which he says, “attracted an amazing response from front line workers and locals from the Alfred hospital, one block away”.
Like so many working in hospitality, Matt admits, “2020 was the most challenging in his career”, now spanning two decades. However, Matt is now welcoming back his dining-in customers and says he’s “looking forward to the challenges and successes 2021 will bring”.
Private dining events around Melbourne and in people’s own homes
Which already looks promising. Matt recently set up Black Slate Kitchen, a ‘personal food’ consultancy and catering business. He has also just developed a menu, ‘Comma Food & Wine in Moorabbin’ and plans to provide regular private dining events at venues around Melbourne, and in people’s own homes.
“My goal is to develop Black Slate Kitchen and open my own venue. Over the next few years I plan to work with numerous small venues to develop menus and teams as well as having pop-up nights for Black Slate Kitchen”.