After eight years working in the industry, Matthew Hill, executive head chef at Down Hall, has learned a lot about the region, its culinary scene and the perceptive and conscientious foodies that help keep his job competitive and exciting: ‘I’ve grown to love so much about this region. Diners in Essex are a discerning bunch, and it’s their passion for outstanding dining experiences that has attracted some of the country’s – and indeed the world’s – best talent to the region.’
There’s something about Essex that’s truly remarkable and makes it one of a kind. Part of the challenge of working as a chef in a region situated on the very edge of London is handling the veritable kaleidoscope of international culinary influences that the capital attracts: ‘we see industry trends filter through relatively quickly. As chefs, it’s our job to keep our finger on the pulse, develop creative and exciting menus, and use the wonderful wealth of ingredients we have on our doorstep in fresh and imaginative ways. Thanks to the work we’re putting in, and the amazing reaction I’ve seen from diners, the profile of the region’s dining scene has raised remarkably. The county has been firmly established as a culinary destination and hotspot, so it really is an honour to be part of the industry.’
Essex benefits from some fantastic county-made produce, and Matthew certainly takes advantage of that in his cooking. He says: ‘the exceptional quality of the ingredients we have in Essex poses an exciting challenge for the region’s restaurants. […] From poultry and watercress to oils and our famed Maldon sea salt, the county is home to some truly outstanding local goods.’ At the same time, a region of diners that’s becoming more and more aware of the issues of provenance and sustainability poses interesting challenges in Matthew’s line of work: ‘I have to respond to this in kind, be it through establishing healthy and productive relationships with quality local suppliers, maintaining kitchen gardens for harvesting fresh herbs and botanicals, or foraging wild ingredients to really bring the outdoors in. Restaurants in the region have taken their patrons’ concerns to heart, and it’s great to see the industry react in creative and engaging ways.’
Looking ahead, Matthew expects an exciting 2017 for both Down Hall and the wider county. There’ll be opportunities to try plenty of new sensational food and drink, and he urges diners to be adventurous and open minded. He hopes diners will put themselves in the hands of the region’s finest talent and trust in their ability to serve the very best.