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Home / Latest News / TV chef Matt Tebbutt cooks up some Guilty Pleasures in his new book

TV chef Matt Tebbutt cooks up some Guilty Pleasures in his new book

There’s something to be said for a  treat to lift the mood. Whether it’s a  crisp sandwich before bed or eating  peanut butter from the jar after  work, those little indulgences are what can make  a terrible day seem better after all.

The notion of treats is more important than  ever these days – so says chef and TV presenter  Matt Tebbutt.

He’s so taken with the idea of indulging in a  little of what you fancy that he’s based his new  cookery book around it.

Called Guilty Pleasures, it takes those  forbidden tidbits like peanut butter, cream  cheese, coffee and even booze and makes them  a key player in some tantalising recipes.

As the chef/owner of  The Foxhunter   in  Abergavenny, Matt is no stranger to high-class  menus, perfectly presented.

He and his wife Lisa have, in their 12 years  owning the restaurant, put seasonal and local  food at the centre of what they do, making sure  they responsibly source everything from their  fish to their vegetables.

So it comes as something of a surprise to  open the book and read recipes for raspberry  cream cheese brownies, peanut butter ice cream,  vodka-marinated steak, rum cupcakes with  Baileys frosting and more.

Matt, who trained with Michelin-starred chefs  like Marco Pierre White and Bruce Poole, says  Guilty Pleasures is all about getting cheeky with  food and having a bit of fun.

“We see the recession head on at The  Foxhunter, because restaurants are always the  first thing to go, so I’m very aware things are  tight.

“When we were putting together the book it  was just doom and gloom on the news, so we  were saying, ‘Sod it, if we’re going to eat, let’s  eat what we like’.

“It could be something that’s not particularly  good for you – it’s not a superfood, it’s laden  with calories, but sod it.

“I’m not advocating you’d have it every day,  because obviously we’d all be enormous, but  every now and again these things are good for  you – good for the soul, anyway,” he explains.

Far from being the latest manual from an  uptight ‘cheffy’ chef, Matt, who turns 40 this  year, says the book (from which you can find  three recipes overleaf) was a chance to  experiment – although he fully expects some of  his foodie fraternity to frown upon his mischief.

“The book was about taking a break from the  norm. The whole seasonal local thing is great and  it’s what we’ve built the restaurant’s reputation  around, but it’s nice to just get out of it for a  while. So many chefs are always telling us what  we can and can’t eat and it’s all very preachy,  so it was kind of the anti-preachy book.

“I suspect the snottier chef brigade are going  to look at it and go, ‘What are you doing?’, but  frankly, I don’t care.

“It was built around some of the top-selling  things people buy in supermarkets. These  products are there, people like them, they’re  hanging around our fridges and cupboards – like  ketchup and booze – so apart from the obvious  things, what else can we do with them?

“I’m sure there are going to be a lot of chefs  scoffing into their seasonal and local superfoods  at the book, but I don’t really care,” he added.  “It’s not necessarily what I serve in the restaurant  because that’s a different entity, but it’s certainly  what I’d eat at home.”

The eternally engaging question of what a chef  eats at home is at least partially answered when  Matt runs through his favourite recipes from the  book. Of the 130 included, he manages to reel  off a large number which stand out for him.

“I love good home cooking – the slow-cooked  pulled pork is amazing, that’s what I’d go for at  food festivals and gigs; the American cheesecake  is great and it’s actually on quite a lot at the  restaurant.

“The peanut butter ice cream is always on,  because it’s amazing and the peanut butter pecan  pie is fab.

“The raspberry cream cheese brownies are  immense – they look great and they taste  fantastic.

“The Marmite potatoes have a really nice  coating; it makes them meaty and gives a  beautiful colour to the spuds and a really nice  taste.”

When it came to inspiration for the book,  Matt says that ideas were literally all around  him – although some were best left alone.

“Putting the book together took a bit of  thought and quite a lot of trial and error. For  the meatballs, I went to New York a few years ago  and was chatting to a chef who showed me his  meatball recipe which was based around ricotta  and meat, so we substituted cream cheese.

“We tried it and the meatballs are great; they’re  smooth and the cream cheese is just rich and  moreish.

“A lot of things on paper that you wouldn’t  think would work, did. Other things you would  look at and think they would blow your mind,  and they were just awful.

“Hopefully it’s good food without the snobbery,  because there are a lot of chefs, especially the  Michelin boys, who go out of their way to make  food look as complicated as they can and as  unattainable and inaccessible as possible, and  it’s not.”

He’s a well-known chef now, but although a  passion for good food and cooking developed  early for Matt, thanks in part to family holidays to  France and Italy, the decision to be a chef didn’t  come until later in life.

Studying geography at Oxford Brookes  University, he flirted with an early ambition to  be a pilot, joining the university air squadron –  but he eventually decided against a 12-year  signing with the RAF and turned his attentions  to experimenting in the kitchen.

Having obtained a diploma in London with  Leith’s School of Food and Wine, he worked in  some of the best restaurants in the UK.

As well as a traineeship with Marco Pierre  White at The Oak Room and The Criterion and  with master of classic French food and leading  advocate of affordable excellence Bruce Poole,  Matt also had a stint at Clarke’s learning about  bread making from Sally Clarke and worked with  pioneering chef Alastair Little at his Lancaster  Road and Soho restaurants.

Despite this background which brings together  some of the most recognisable culinary names  around, the idea of chefs making food as almost  an art form as opposed to delicious sustenance is  a regular topic of Matt’s conversation.

The reputation that he has built up through his  cooking at the restaurant is one for tasty food  that’s not afraid to be rustic, and along with  Stephen Terry’s The Hardwick, he has helped  to cement the area as a foodie destination.

“I think people are so obsessed with Michelin  stars, they’re so obsessed with MasterChef and  Michelin cooking, but there are so many good  chefs out there. It’s about what you think of as  good food. I’ve been to restaurants that purport  to be one of the best wherever they are, whether  it’s Wales or England, and they do everything in a  Michelin style, but they’ve missed the point.

“All they want to do is make it look pretty and  make it look like every MasterChef dish you’ve  ever seen, but the basic food is just rubbish.”

Although Matt is full of praise for South Wales’  remaining Michelin-starred dining destination,  The Walnut Tree, saying that chef Shaun Hill “is  a brilliant cook”, nonetheless he feels that the  recent closure of The Crown at Whitebrook in  Monmouthshire hasn’t sounded the death knell  for the country’s cooking landscape – or anything  close.

“It’s sad for the restaurant to close, but James  Sommerin will open another one because he’s a  great chef.

“Michelin-starred restaurants are expensive to  maintain. They require a lot of staff and a certain  standard of not just food but everything. That  requires a lot of money and input and that’s why,  if they’re not in a busy city or town, they go  under, because they’re expensive creatures.

“I think there has to be a shift in people’s  perception when they go out to eat, of what they  think is good food and whether that’s a plate of  fresh fish with a wedge of lemon or whether it’s  fish which has been pounded into a mousse and  put with some out-of-season ingredient on top  just to make it look pretty.

“Sadly, that’s what a lot of people see as good  food and it’s wrong. It’s my pet hate.”

Although he admires the skill involved for  Michelin chefs, he does cite a formula to  attaining that often coveted star status.

“You have to be very good at what you do to  get a Michelin star, I’m not taking that away.

“But there’s a colour-by-numbers system of  getting a star and if you tick boxes and have  umpteen managers and waiters who look very  smart and know what they’re doing and the food  is of a certain standard, you can get the star.

“If somebody wanted to start from scratch and  say in five years’ time they wanted to have that  star, they could.

“There are a lot of chefs who are equally as  good and on the same level as the Michelin cooks  but they have, for one reason or another, chosen  not to go down that route, because maybe it  wasn’t the style they liked; maybe they go to  France and get more turned on by a simple bowl  of fish soup and a great salad with fresh herbs in it rather than everything being piled up and  tweaked and moved around the plate within an  inch of its life.”

The fussiness that he cites in food is something  he’s had more than his fill of in his TV career too.

Creating food television is something he is  passionate about, but he sees it primarily as  a platform to shout about things that are  important.

As the presenter of Food Unwrapped, now in  its second series on Channel 4, he teamed up  with farmer Jimmy Doherty and journalist Kate  Quilton to lift the lid on the food industry.

Making people more aware of what they’re  eating is something he sees as a necessity – not  just for the public to be informed, but for them  to make decisions which may help save food  production in the UK.

“Food Unwrapped has showed us that there’s a  process involved in creating the food we want to  buy.

“If you want to give your kids ham sandwiches,  whether you buy a multi-pack for a quid or three  slices for a fiver, it all has to go through a process.

 “So every time we go to the supermarket and  reach for it, it’s there. It’s what we expect  nowadays.

“I went into the show armed with the idea  that I was going to be put off by these things but  you’re not. I didn’t know, for example, that they  make six chicken kievs out of one breast of  chicken, and they do that by mincing the chicken  and stretching it.

“They’re not adding lots of fillers, all they do is  put it through a process in order to get the most  out of it. Whether you think it’s right or wrong,  it’s up to you to either buy it or not.

“The biggest crime in food at the moment is  food labelling, because it’s so ambiguous.

“Knowing about those things has changed  the way I shop, definitely. I know that ‘freshly- squeezed orange juice’ is very different to ‘pure  squeezed orange juice’.

“With pure squeezed juice, you naturally  assume it’s fresh, but it could be up to two years  old, whereas freshly squeezed orange could just  be up to two weeks old. There is a definite  deception going on in terms of labelling. They  play with words because they know people  probably wouldn’t buy it and the biggest cost is  to the British farmers. They struggle all the time  to create really good food for us and keep the  countryside going the way we want to see it  when we go out for our Sunday drive, with pigs,  sheep and cows in the fields.

“But it comes at a price. They are being  undercut by labelling that allows European meat  into our country and as long as you repackage it  in Britain, you can put a big old British stamp on  it, and people don’t know that.

“The horsemeat scandal woke people up to  the fact that they didn’t know much about their  food.

“The chain is too big and it’s untraceable,  and what people need to be reminded of or  made aware of is if they’re paying a quid for six  burgers, what’s in them? You’ve got to question  how they can make it so cheap.

“If you’re happy to eat that, and there’s nothing  wrong with eating horse, that’s fine, I just think  we should know about it.”

As Matt’s interest in food started in his  childhood, he says that bringing up his children  – Jessie who is 11 and Henry who turns 10 this  year – to enjoy food has been something  he and  Lisa have made a priority.

“My daughter’s got really into food, she loves it  now and she’ll try anything.

“She’s seen me grabbing salamis and eating  olives and stuff like that as a snack. I don’t force  it on them, but they’ve got a natural curiosity.

“Henry takes a little bit more cajoling, he is  that little bit younger and he’s still got to get into  it a bit more, but he’ll try stuff – if he’s in the  mood. They do still like chips and anything from  a deep fat fryer, but those are guilty pleasures  for us all,” he laughs.

When he’s not filming for one of his many  TV appearances – on his CV are stints on  Saturday Kitchen and Market Kitchen – creating  another stellar menu for The Foxhunter or  recipe-testing for his latest book – another one is  already in the pipeline – Matt admits that he has  his own guilty pleasure which makes him smile.

“I like nothing more than eating huge amounts  of Chinese food. I go to Cardiff and just stuff  myself with Chinese. I could do that every day of  the week, but obviously I can’t. But the kids love  that. I always want to involve the kids, because  it’s good fun.

“We have persevered over the years and they  love food, they’re not those annoying kids who  you see who will only eat burgers.”

Putting The Foxhunter on the market a few  years ago may have heralded a change for the  family’s future, but Matt says it wasn’t to be in  the end, and he seems almost grateful that the  move didn’t happen.

“We reached a point where we were thinking  about moving. It’s no secret that restaurants  are stressful, you go through periods where you  think, ‘How can we carry on doing this?’. Then  the recession hit, we couldn’t sell it, so we took  it off the market.

“Now I think we’re settled. That doesn’t mean  I’m going to be cooking here in 10 years’ time; it  means for now, I’m very happy. I drive the kids  to school in the morning and you couldn’t get a  better view, it’s just a gorgeous place.

“I suppose what my kids get out of it is that  they’re growing up slower, that’s what happens in  the country. They aren’t as streetwise, they go to  a lovely village school and they’re not teenagers  yet, they’re holding onto their childhood  longer.

“We have friends who live in London and the  kids grow up so quickly there. There’s space  for them to run around and explore here; it’s  beautiful, and we’re very lucky.”

Not that Matt gets much spare time to unwind  and enjoy their bucolic surroundings, but he insists he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We are always really busy, but I think it’s  always a bit worrying when you stop. In fact, you  moan when you’re running round like a looney  and then when you stop you worry.

“But as long as you’re enjoying life and ta

king  pleasure where you can, life is good.

“Enjoying food and enjoying life go hand in  hand for me. I don’t understand people who don’t  get off on food. We have people who roll into the  restaurant in their big flashy cars and they don’t  get food, they don’t get excited about it, they just  do it because it keeps them alive.

“I just don’t understand that because food is a  massive part of life. You’re doing it three times a  day or more and if you don’t  enjoy it, you’re missing out  on so much.”

Including those  Marmite-smothered spuds.

Guilty Pleasures is  published on Thursday by  Quercus Books, £18.99

Matt's new book
Matt’s new book

 

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