A day cooking in a Michelin starred kitchen with Matt Gillan at The Pass

I’ve been very lucky to have been able to indulge my passion for food. I love cooking and whenever I eat somewhere special, I try to visit the kitchen to thank the chef and his brigade for a great meal.

The Pass at South Lodge Hotel near Horsham in West Sussex offers an interactive experience with the kitchen and I was very lucky to meet Michelin-starred chef Matt Gillan when I ate at The Pass. You may have caught him competing on Great British Menu on TV when he got his main course to the final banquet in 2015.

I had so many questions about the food and his innovative modern cooking techniques that he asked if I would like to come in and spend some time in the kitchen. An unbelievably generous offer from a culinary genius and of course my answer was yes!

Matt arranged for me, Andrew and another friend to spend the morning in the The Pass kitchen with him and his brigade and then to help in lunch service before coming back to have dinner at The Pass.

It was our first time in any professional kitchen, let alone one holding a coveted Michelin star. By the time we arrived at 9am, Matt and his team had already been working in the kitchen for an hour. Matt took us to change into our chef’s whites and aprons and I have to confess that a big smile crossed my face. Well, that was til we realised we should have worn rubber soles shoes – kitchens are slippery places!

Matt showed us to the hotel garden where the restaurant grow its own vegetables and then the staff restaurant. All the staff were great and the boys in Matt’s brigade made us feel really welcome all day, even if we were slowing them down with any incompetence and questions.

We were sent to different sections. I helped in garnishes, gaining valuable insight into how to prepare, part cook the vegetables and then how to finish them off in service.

Andrew made bread and worked on desserts. This was the most interesting section as Matt showed us his cupboard of special ingredients. For example, they made sugar shards from a special sugar which helps with its clarity.

Jesse was on mains and got to see the bigger pieces of specialist kitchen kit at work.

We learned lots of little tips and watched how the skilled chefs worked so swiftly and yet always maintaining the highest standards. We got used to shouting ‘Backs!’ as we passed behind other working chefs. We also got to chat to chefs preparing food for the neighbouring Camelia restaurant and were asked for our input on a new dish one of their chefs was working on. Being foodies, we were in paradise.

After being sent off for a quick bite and rest, we returned to participate in the lunch service. Yup, in a Michelin star kitchen for paying guests. We watched in awe as the brigade cooked and turned the food that we had helped to prep turn into Matt’s stunning modern British food.

Then, I couldn’t believe it as Matt waved us forward to help plate some of the dishes. It was such a privilege to help put together some of Matt’s intricate creations.

Then, if plating the food wasn’t amazing enough, things went up a further notch. At The Pass, the chefs serve the food and they explain the dishes to the guests. Matt asked us to help to carry the dishes to the table. Wow, I have never been so nervous just walking! Especially as my shoes were a little greasy from my morning in the kitchen.

It was the most amazing experience and I am very grateful to Matt for letting us to be so involved in his kitchen and restaurant and to his brigade for looking after us. Spending a day with professional chefs has only made me more in awe of their dedication, their tireless energy, their professionalism and their high standards. We were tired after only a morning and lunch service but the chefs continued working through the afternoon and then did dinner service too.

We returned to eat Matt’s delicious tasting menu for dinner. The food was stunning and made all the enjoyable by the fact that we now knew the love, heart and skill that went into making it.

At the time of writing, it has just been announced that chef Matt Gillan is leaving The Pass at the end of April 2016, after 10 years at South Lodge Hotel. He is leaving to work on a personal project. I’ll be looking out keenly to where he surfaces next. Thanks for my best cooking experience ever, Matt!

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