Since leaving Eastleigh College in 2007, with BTEC Level 1 and Level 2 certificates in Hospitality and Catering under his belt, Matthew Whitfield’s career has gone from strength to strength. From the quaint Cornish coastline to the multilingual metropolis of Brussels, Belgium, to the vibrant ambience of New York City, Matthew’s culinary pursuits have allowed him to travel the world and experience dynamic food cultures across different continents. Now he is happily employed as the Head Chef of The Montagu Arms Hotel, where he manages a team of fourteen and oversees daily food service to a capacity of sixty guests.
Such accomplishments may have seemed a far cry for Matthew upon leaving school – it was initially touch-and-go whether he would fulfil the grade criteria to enrol at Eastleigh College. Fortunately for him, he just made the cut and it proved to be a key turning point. Under the expert tuition of his lecturer Alan Humphry, he quickly developed his catering skillset through a range of practical assignments and shifts in our East Avenue Restaurant, in addition to moonlighting as a kitchen assistant in his father’s pub.
Alan Humphry, former Hospitality and Catering Lecturer at Eastleigh College, said: “As a lecturer there are always some learners that stand out in the memory and Matthew is certainly one of those. He always struck me as a clean, tidy and well-presented worker who had an excellent attitude.”
Matthew began his career post-college at The Montagu Arms Hotel, where he was appointed as Junior Sous Chef. After almost four years in this position, he moved to Brussels in Belgium where he worked as a regular Sous Chef in the reputed Sea Grill seafood restaurant, which held two Michelin stars. Following two years here he made the decision to return to the UK, this time opting for a shoreline retreat at an established Michelin-star boutique retreat in the heart of Cornwall. This was in the position of Head Chef at The Driftwood Hotel.
“If you have a passion for cooking, studying catering at college is one of the best decisions you can make. Throw yourself into it but look after yourself – and stay humble. Staying humble is the most important advice I can give; do that and you will excel.”
Matthew said: “The kitchen can be a high-pressure environment and in that climate mistakes can be made. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve carried throughout my career was given to me by Alan Humphrey: ‘It doesn’t matter whose fault it was – you just need to get it done’. I now pass on this advice to members of my teams as I believe this message is so important in the catering industry”.
After three fulfilling years at the Driftwood Hotel, Matthew made his most significant career development yet – moving to New York City to work as a chef at the prestigious Eleven Madison Park restaurant. This establishment not only held three Michelin stars but was once ranked as the number one restaurant in the world back in 2017. Matthew discovered his element in Eleven’s bustling kitchen environment, working alongside industry leading professionals and the overseeing eye of famed international chef and cookery author Daniel Humm.
However, after three years of bringing Eleven’s speciality dishes to life, Matthew realised his true calling was in creating his own personal dishes – as opposed to being constrained to a pre-set menu. It proved an epiphany moment for the 28-year-old and one that led him back to his roots where it all began at The Montagu Arms Hotel, this time in the more senior role of Head Chef.
Within two months of rejoining The Montagu Arms, Matthew earned the hotel three AA Rosette awards which have remained until this day. The official AA criteria for this decoration stipulates restaurants must be ‘outstanding’, with consistently excellent judgement of flavour combinations and selection of the highest quality ingredients.
Matthew concluded: “Having grown up in the New Forest, I can feel a real connection to the recipe ingredients of The Montagu Arms, which has a particular emphasis on organic local produce. Returning here felt like coming home and I am excited to see what the future has in store for me here.”