Emma Cullen dishes the dirt on an award-winning chef who has brought field-to-fork dining closer to home…
It’s every diner’s dream to dine at a restaurant which serves up meat smoked in an on-site smoker and honey from the beehives in the back garden. Add to that a chef who’s happy to tuck his Michelin star into his belt and dig up his own vegetables from the kitchen garden and discerning diners would be on Cloud Nine. But it’s no dream at The Moonraker in Wiltshire, where head chef Matthew Briddon is as active in growing, curing and rearing his own produce as he is in cooking it.
Briddon has worked in some of Britain’s best kitchens, such as Michelin-starred Heathcotes Restaurant; he has turned ordinary restaurants into award winners and even featured on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. But this is a chef whose feet are firmly on the ground and who is wholly invested in producing exceptional food from as close to his own back door as possible.
Naturally, we were keen to have a chat with such a friendly and inspirational chef.
What is your vision for The Moonraker Restaurant?
We want to become even more sustainable, seasonal and to grow as much on the hotel grounds as possible to really give our diners the freshest farmhouse dining experience. We aim to go after rosettes in the next few months but that’s not something we’re rushing.
What is Farmhouse Dining?
We offer good honest food with French techniques and flavours from the kitchen garden and hotel grounds – basically it’s my grandma’s food with a French, modern twist!
You’ve worked with at some pretty impressive restaurants; what lessons and ideas did you take from your previous experience that inform your cooking today?
I have learnt so much over the years. My experience taught me that you must first and foremost always be prepared, organised and work with seasonal, fresh ingredients and never compromise. You must be true to your staff and cook for your customers not your ego.
Who or what inspires you the most?
The kitchen garden at the hotel is a constant inspiration – it changes so much depending on the season and what’s available; I find I’m inspired by seeing what’s fresh each day.
You’ve got so much going on in the grounds, from beehives to smokeries; pigs and chickens to the kitchen garden. What’s your favourite area?
I love everything but my real passion is the smoker – and there will be lots more happening this year on that score, I’m even hoping to give workshops on smoking soon.
What further developments do foresee for The Moonraker?
We actually have some ducks literally en route as I speak! We are also looking into a polytunnel for micro herbs and we hope to start selling the hay-smoked salmon in our farm shop this summer, as it’s such a popular dish in the restaurant now.
You’re obviously hot on seasonal trends and produce. Do you predict any emerging food trends for 2015?
That’s a tough one, but I think there will be a move towards more curing, smoking and preserving.
We see a growing movement in restaurants embracing foraging, curing and sourcing carefully from field to fork. Do you think it is customers or chefs driving this?
I think is a lot to do with chefs looking for new angles. The result is that restaurant food is becoming more and more seasonal and in turn customers are getting a greater understanding of products and where they come from – all of which is fantastic.
What would you eat and who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I’d keep the food quite simple and have a spread of local cheeses, along with great charcuterie from The Moonraker (of course) and a very good Bourbon! I’m sure that would keep a dinner party made up of Johnny Cash, Winston Churchill, Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain, Abraham Lincoln and my grandad happy.
What do you cook for yourself at home and where do you love to dine out?
At home it really depends on my mood – I’ll cook a real mix of things, but I especially love making fresh pasta and I’m a sucker for Chinese food! When it comes to eating out, it’s got to be Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers.
What has been your most memorable kitchen moment?
Well, there are actually two: winning a Michelin star and meeting my wife – both happened in the kitchen.
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