Interview with Development Chef Phillipa Armitage-Mattin
From working in a Michelin starred kitchen with chefs such as Anna Haugh to helping develop ready meals for Tesco, development chef Phillipa Armitage-Mattin has seen two incredibly different ends of professional kitchens. Our co-founder, Mecca Ibrahim, asked Chef Philli how she made the move and what it’s like producing meals for a mass market after the precision of working in two of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants.
Can you tell us a little about your background and how you first got into food ?
Eating at Simon Rogan’s restaurant really first inspired me. I studied chemistry at University, and my physics teacher was the same person who taught Heston Blumenthal. He taught me so much about the science of food and why things work. I got invited into the development kitchen at L’Enclume which was amazing. I really related to the development chef there – he’d studied chemistry and physics but was clearly passionate about food too. It was magical. Their development kitchen felt like my lab. But imagine a lab where you can eat things.
In my last year of University I did pop up dinners with my best friend. She would decorate and I would put on 8 course menus. I loved the creative element and bending ingredients. After 4 years studying chemistry that moment at Simon Rogan’s restaurant stood out and I wanted to move into food science, but I knew I needed a good background in food. So I took an apprenticeship with Gordon Ramsay which lasted 2 years. I worked at London House in Battersea which gave me a great background in working for a neighbourhood restaurant and I worked under Anna Haugh and got a really good grounding there. My second year was spent at Maze Restaurant in Grosvenor Square which ignited my excitement around Japanese and Asian food. I really loved the pastry section there too.
How did you move from working in a Michelin starred restaurant to becoming a development chef?
I wanted a bit more of a work life balance and also wanted to use more of my food science background again. I became development chef for Tesco which was a big change as I was helping to design ready meals for them. There is a bit of misconception around ready meals, in that they’re not necessarily imaginative or healthy. I was lucky enough to work on Tesco’s Wicked Kitchen range. It was quite blue sky at the time and you ultimately you get to see your food in front of 10’s of thousands of people every day.
We’ve seen a big movement towards plant-based and vegan food, how was it producing food for a mass market?
When we first got the brief of working with Derek Sarno who is from LA and is an amazing plant-based chef. The way he uses vegetables such as mushrooms is incredible. The challenge is producing this for a mass market. It’s exciting and there’s no rule book as there is for cooking a steak for example. I was also producing plant-based meals for Fresh Fitness food a ready meal delivery service and getting in protein is not as hard as one may imagine.
Who inspires you in the food at the moment – plant-based and vegan and in general?
I must say Gordon Ramsay and also Clare Smyth as I think she’s a goddess and CORE was insane when I went there. How she makes a carrot taste that good it’s ridiculous. Also I was really impressed by Ollie Dabbous at Hide, he’s doing really cool and quirky things. I love Zaiyu Hasegawa I worked at restaurant which is a two Michelin star restaurant in Tokyo – Den. He has some amazing touches with his hospitality there as well as incredible food. They will try to Google guests before arriving to find out what country they are from and put a little flag from your home country on your table.
Did you feel there were any advantages of being a woman in the food industry?
You need to be a strong character and tenacious but really don’t have you have to do that in any industry if you want to stand out. At one stage I was the only woman in a Gordon Ramsay kitchen so you need to stand up for yourself. Women are strong and they can bring a different energy and vibe to the kitchen. Maybe a bit more empathy. Too many men in a kitchen can be a bit boisterous.
If you were marooned on a desert island, what one ingredient could you not live without and what is the dish type you could live on forever?
I believe a bit of butter makes things better. When you put butter in a pan and watch it foam it’s wonderful. There is an amazing butter called &butter culture by Grant Harrington which all the top restaurants use for its floral notes. It elevates simple bread and butter.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Underneath it all people are insecure and don’t often know what they are doing. But I wish I had told that 21 year old that first stepped into a kitchen shaking, that you can do things and to have belief in yourself. I think women are often more hard on themselves and don’t have the bravado that men have.
What are your plans for the future?
I launched my development chef consultancy, Nutshell Food Consultants, in January and working with brands like Fresh Fitness Food, Tesco and am working with local restaurants and FMCG startups. I love a challenge and working with brands that have passion and can take them to the next level through innovation.
You may also like to read our other features with female chefs and owners of restaurants – Pomona’s, Shola, The Parkers Arms and Romulo Cafe. We also interviewed Katie Chesney Head of Marketing at the STK Steakhouse group of restaurants EMEA. Plus you can listen to our podcast with Katie Chesney very kindly put together by our friend James Haywood of OpenKitchen.