Chef Matthew Hodgett is a decorated pâtisserie teaching chef at Le Cordon Bleu London who possesses rich skills acquired over the years from his stints with brands like InterContinental Hotel, the American Embassy, and Claridges, and as head pastry chef for the Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Wentworth Golf Course. Akshay Nayak captures glimpses of his journey in the culinary space
Chef Matthew Hodgett’s love for pâtisserie started well before kick-starting his professional career in baking from Stamford Hotel. “When I was young, of about 7-8 years, I used to bake cakes at home,” reminisces Chef Hodgett about how his passion for pâtisserie was there within him right since his childhood. “There on, I used to bake cakes on every Sunday at my home with recipes inspired by my mother. Since my childhood, I have always been interested in cake decoration. We siblings used to compete in cake decoration, which would be judged by family… that is how I got into pursuing my childhood passion as a career,” adds Chef Hodgett. After furthering his training and gaining an Advanced Pastry qualification, Chef Hodgett worked at Hanbury Manor and later Gravetye Manor, where he helped them earn their first Michelin star.
Challenges & opportunities
Although passion is the key driver, Chef Hodgett says that there are challenges which when countered correctly help you hone your skills. “The initial challenge that I faced was that in my professional career, I did not start with pastry but cuisine, which has its own shortcomings. But, having worked with various restaurants and hotels, I was blessed with good mentors who trained me well to meet what a given situation demanded,” he notes.
Having prepared pastries for various large banquets, when asked about how he coped with the pressure, he replied, “I once had to make 1000 souffles for a banquet and I didn’t give a second thought but just made them. The biggest banquet that I have done was with the InterContinental which had 2000 covers, and we just dealt with it how it came. One should deal with the pressure as it comes. You just have to do it. If you can’t handle it, there is no point in doing what you do.”
Answering a query about what it takes to earn a Michelin star for a restaurant, Chef Hodgett shares his personal experience. He says when he was working with one of the restaurants that were acknowledged with a Michelin star, they had no air-conditioning in the kitchen, and it was the hottest summer during those years. “During that time, we did 80 covers for lunch and dinner each, and the chefs were continuously in the kitchen for long hours. We worked as a team of 10 chefs and with all the hard work we garnered the Michelin star,” he adds.
Chef Hodgett then shared his views about the distinction between ingredients found in India as compared to that in London. “The ingredients are very different in India from that found in London. For example, the dairy here is a lot different in terms of fat composition, etc. Considering butter, Indian butter has less fat content as compared to that found in London. Also, the moisture and humidity of the atmosphere in India are different from that in London,” he voices. In terms of skills, Chef Hodgett feels India is on the progressing curve considering the institutes here which are slowly and steadily getting there to provide international standards of training and development programmes in baking provided to the aspiring chefs.
“Also, many aspiring chefs, once they have the foundation and acquired the necessary skills, they can either opt to work for a hotel/ restaurant or can start their own venture,” feels Chef Hodgett when queried about the rising number of entrepreneur chefs globally and in India. “Personally, I think one must go in which their heart is into. To be honest, I would love working with hotels, but it is not the same for all the chefs. So, some may be working for a hotel/ restaurant or open their own cafe. All they got to look is at the bigger picture of how they want to channelise their efforts,” he opines.
The trends in pastry segment is all about social media, informs Chef Hodgett. “Be it the presentation of pannacotta or the colourful croissants, it is the internet that is dictating the global trends which keeps changing time and again. You have to keep going with the trends. The macarons were trending for some time, it went down, then the cupcakes started trending, this was followed by the unicorn desserts which started trending suddenly,” he adds.
Being a chef: Not a quick-fix
As a message to the aspiring chefs who think the culinary space is a glamorous industry, Chef Hodgett conveyed that it is not how it looks in the television, but being a chef demands a lot of hard work. “A lot of people think it is a quick fix. They think, if they get admitted into Le Cordon Bleu, the next thing they are going to have is their own restaurant or they are going to be a celebrity chef. It doesn’t work like that. Also, the chefs that teach at Le Cordon Bleu, they have worked for many hotels and restaurants for several years, and that’s why the institutes have employed us to pass on the knowledge, experiences, etc., to the next-gen chefs. Take, for example, Gordon Ramsay, he has worked really really hard before he could make it before the camera. So it is a hard life to get there,” he explains.
Moreover, Chef Hodgett advices the aspiring chefs that as a first they need to have an understanding of what they are getting into. “They have to be dedicated, motivated, hardworking, and patient especially in pastry. One can have patience being a cuisine chef but of course, they can add the salt or pepper if the dish falls short of them. However, in the case of pastry, if something goes wrong, the whole thing gets discarded and you start all over from scratch, which at times can get frustrating. So, pastry is more of a science. You need to have more patience and understanding of what you are doing with your products/ ingredients,” he adds.
“Keep smiling. Happy cooking,” concludes Chef Hodgett.