Matthew Wood, executive chef, Hilton Brisbane
The professional kitchen atmosphere fascinates me, with all of the extreme personalities, the intense rush of service and physically demanding work ...
When it comes to getting a glimpse inside the world of the culinary arts, most of us only get as far as watching a few cooking shows on TV. Although those programs convey a sense of urgency and thrill in the kitchen, it doesn’t do justice to the high-pressure environment chefs work under. For Matt Wood, it was this lively environment that engaged and excited him about the world of professional cooking. Since becoming a chef, Matt has worked in some top-flight kitchens including stints at ARIA and Stokehouse Q. Now Matt has taken on the role of executive chef at Hilton Brisbane, which includes overseeing the menu at Vintaged Bar + Grill. We took the opportunity to talk to Matt about his approach to the role, as well as getting some hot tips on mastering the culinary basics.
Let’s start at the beginning – do you remember where your love for first food came from?
My mum makes a killer blueberry pie, but apart from that, meal times were usually a source of conflict in our house. I was a very fussy eater as a child. As meat and potato kind of kid I detested anything green or the slightest bit ‘healthy’. My passion for food developed after I started working in kitchens. Now my own son is a bit of a picky eater himself, which my mum loves to point out is some well-deserved karma.
What was it that spurred your decision to become a professional chef?
I’d love to be able to say that I’ve always had a lifelong interest in food that developed from spending my childhood on my family’s farm – so many chefs seem to have a story along those lines – but for me that is simply not the case. I actually fell into cooking for a living by accident. I left school at 16 years old and was working as a kitchen hand with dreams of a career making music. The professional kitchen atmosphere fascinated me though, with all of the extreme personalities, the intense rush of service, and physically demanding work. That environment suited me. When I finally came to the realisation that music or any of my other hobbies weren’t going to pay the rent, cooking became my career by default. I grew to love it, and now twenty years later I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.
After working at some notable restaurants around town, you’ve recently come on board as the new executive chef at Hilton Brisbane – what do you love most about the venue?
The design of the space itself is what I love most about the venue. Hilton Brisbane is a beautiful building; the soaring, light filled atrium grabs your attention as soon as you exit the elevators.
We hear that there’s a few new offerings on the menu at Vintaged Bar + Grill! What can you tell us about the new arrivals?
Vintaged Bar & Grill is offering a two course lunch for $27 available Monday to Friday. It features a selection of seasonal, market inspired dishes and offers exceptional value for money. So if you’re after quick, reasonably priced lunch in the CBD, we have you covered!
Are there any ideas that you are itching to bring to the Vintaged kitchen?
We will continue to work closely with our producers and suppliers to highlight the best of Australian produce. I want our dishes to be contemporary, but also recognisable. I don’t want to challenge our guests or try to impress them with an excessive show of technique. I am aiming for balanced flavours and attractive presentation using the best seasonal ingredients we can source.
Now we want to pick your brain on cooking at home. If you are cooking to impress, what is your go to dish?
I don’t really have a ‘go to’ as such, but when entertaining at home I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all evening. I want break bread with the rest of them, open a bottle or four, and enjoy myself. So I always go for roasts or braised dishes and a bunch of vegetable sides to share, with something like a tarte tatin and cream for dessert. That way I can get the majority of the work done long before anyone arrives, and we can all spend the evening together. Clean up usually happens the morning after!
Alternatively, if you are just cooking something for yourself after a long day, what do you choose?
A proper French omelette, any time of the day or night, never disappoints.
Do you have a particular ingredient that you love to cook with?
There isn’t one stand out ingredient – it changes all the time and is influenced by what our producers and suppliers have available. I am just as excited by a delicious apple as I am by anything new that I may come across. That being said, I do have a particular fondness for pork. Pork is such a versatile product and breaking down whole beasts in house allows us to utilise every last bit with nothing going to waste. Preserving and highlighting these somewhat old-school skills is important to me.
What is a key piece of advice that you’d like to give the home-cooks of Brisbane?
If you want to cook well at home you must invest in some good equipment. First off, get yourself a couple of professional quality knives and some heavy duty cookware – I am a big fan of cast iron pans and roasting trays. You will have to pay more for it but this gear is much better than any of the garbage you’ll find at the big chain stores and it will literally last you a lifetime. From there just keep it simple. Buy what’s in season and don’t fuss about with it. Also, stop being so damn scared of salt!
What is your favourite weekend spot to:
Perk-up … Cafe O-Mai or West End Coffee House
Relax … I relax by training and attempting to keep fit at Garra BJJ in Kelvin Grove, or camping with my family. Conondale National Park is our regular spot.
Dine … My partner and I had another knockout lunch at Paper Daisy recently! Ben Devlin is killing it.
Catch-up … My social life is pretty quiet, but generally involves meeting up with other cooks so bars tend to be the place. The Gresham is always a favourite.
Be inspired … So many people I’ve met or worked with over the years inspire me, from cooks to artists and athletes. Basically, anyone who is working hard to get what they want, whatever that may be is an inspiration.