A chef with a cause or two, there’s much more than just good food to The Marriott Highcliff Grill’s executive chef, Matthew Budden. An advocate of local sourcing, sustainability and education, this chef is determined to make a positive difference. We meet him ahead of his London Produce Show and Conference 2015 (LPS15) kitchen demo debut to find out more
Matthew Budden couldn't be happier than he is now. Not only is he an executive chef in his hometown of Bournemouth – he is also surrounded by the best of the coastline and the country. Samphire, watercress, blueberries and an abundance of seafood and fish, help to make up this chef’s “amazing larder” at the Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel.
“We work towards being 100% local, according to quality,” explains Budden, who also sharpened his skills at various prestigious kitchens across Australia, New Zealand and Asia for 12 years before returning home to work at the Marriott and start a family.
“I am lucky to be part of a hotel group that wants each hotel to have its own individual identity – we are not bland and faceless. The hotel restaurants are all driven by the chefs and the chef is the face of the hotel. The Highcliff has 160 rooms, is sat on top of a cliff, and is surrounded by the sea, Dorset and Hampshire. We source as much as possible from farms, and then from single suppliers and independent wholesalers, since we name all the suppliers on the front of the menus. I believe that this should be standard across the industry, as it is important the guest knows where there food is coming from.”
Working in Australia and New Zealand at a time when Australasian cuisine was coming to the forefront, Budden says the food movement’s philosophy of cookery not just being about the food, but a complete way of thinking, was an awakening for his classical background.
“At 21 years old, when I was in training, I found my vocation,” he explains. “And my time abroad brought me back home to apply the same passion and commitment to food in Bournemouth. Chefs should be part of our society – we should be responsibly leading people in what to eat.”
Local independent identity
A strong local culinary voice in the area, Budden has led the Sustainable Fish City Working Group that has recently worked hard to make Bournemouth the world's first Sustainable Fish City. “Sustainable is the new organic,” suggests Budden, who’s next project with the working group will address food poverty.
“We wanted to challenge different businesses, hospitals and schools to put new sustainable models in place. Most of these models are really simple and not expensive – it’s a matter of swapping cod for pollock and hake. The concept of sustainability is daunting for businesses, but once people got their heads around it, it was really quite a simple step. Most people were pretty susceptible to it – I expected some resistance, but everyone was really keen. As a chef, this is something you can do to make a big difference.”
Strengthening chef-supplier relationships
The new accreditation for the city will be announced at the Dorset Seafood Festival this month [June], and Budden believes that foodie festivals and trade events like the London Produce Show are essential to breaking down the barriers between chefs and their guests, as well as the relationships between local businesses, suppliers and competitors in order to build towards a better future for everyone.
“There is much more to learn with fresh produce,” says Budden, who spends his days at the hotel running the kitchen, writing menus, overseeing quality control and writing a regular column for the local newspaper. “There is a lot of heritage product we have forgotten about and chef relationships with suppliers do need to be looked at. Creativity is the best thing about this job and finding new products and engaging with suppliers is important – it would be good to know what we can do to help that. It’s good to get all the chefs in the same place, as networking works for us.”
Budden’s favourite new product at the moment is the haksap berry, also known as blue honeysuckle or edible honeysuckle. The dark blue, bell-shaped fruit is popular in Russia and Japan and native to the northern hemisphere.
Growers in Budden’s local area are currently experimenting with the berry. “It’s a hybrid and not unlike a blackberry, but with a richness of taste,” says Budden, excitedly. “We have been using it in juices and it’s great in desserts. It’s a good one for antioxidants as well, so there are health benefits too.”
Sustaining the future
“Eating food as fresh as possible has to be the best diet,” continues the chef, who along with his 14-chef strong team has achieved two AA Rosettes at the Highcliff Grill and won gold at Taste of the West Hospitality and Retail Awards 2014.
“We take allergies and intolerances very seriously at the Marriott and we train the chefs in gluten-free thinking. We have been providing gluten-free for a long time here and put on gluten-free afternoon teas, which go down very well at the hotel, as the building and views very much set the scene. The next gluten-free menu we are working on is with a food blogger – it’s all about communicating with your guest and looking at food differently.”
Another issue close to Budden’s heart is children’s menus and he believes that the way we feed children in restaurants is due a rethink. “We need to think about children’s food differently,” shares Budden, who has four children under 11 years old. “We have to be honest in the fact that kids only eat certain things, but it still needs to be good quality, and in most cases, just smaller versions of the adult portions. At the Highcliff Grill, we have a mini steak and chips and we have fish goujons, but they are made out of fresh hake on the night.”
Open and pretty much ready for any challenge, it seems, Budden likes to talk to his cookery demo audience and LPS15 will be no exception, with the chef eager to take questions from the crowd on June 4. On the day, Budden will be aptly singing the praises of his local resources and cooking a rump of Westlands Farm lamb, with Jersey Royal potatoes, wild samphire and foraged monk’s beard.
“Hopefully we will use some surprising produce to match with lamb – the saltiness of the samphire works very well with the meat, so it’s a nice, simple recipe that people could do at home if they find the opportunity to source those products.”
Chef Budden’s demonstration was held at the London Produce Show and Conference 2015 on June 4 at the Grosvenor Hotel hotel on Park Lane in London.