Dining at Chewton Glen is run by Executive Head Chef Luke Matthews.
Not many people claim to enjoy washing up and fewer would think of it as the first rung on a demanding career ladder. When young Luke Matthews took a summer job in Pinocchio's Italian restaurant in Christchurch, his main ambition was to earn pocket money, but he enjoyed the atmosphere, the work, the banter and the zealous chefs so much, that he decided to become a chef too. This might not be so surprising, as Luke already enjoyed great food from his mother's kitchen, where fresh local produce, skilled cooking and home baking were already established in his values.
When 16, he started an apprenticeship in The Green Park Hotel, Bournemouth, before moving to the Dormy Hotel at Ferndown. While there, a butcher whose customers included the Chewton Glen Hotel, helped arrange a week of work-experience there for Luke, which opened his eyes to gastronomy at the highest level and fired his imagination.
When his apprenticeship was complete, Luke set out to travel and learn. Included in his ports-of-call included were Jersey and The Stonor Arms in Oxfordshire, now the Quince Tree. It was not long before French cuisine beckoned and Luke headed for Provence with its wonderful fruit and vegetables, truffles, goats' cheese, honey and of course fresh Mediterranean fish used for bouillabaisse and bourride, the two great Provençal fish stews. This love of France lingered and while still single, his holidays were spent with friends and colleagues on food tours, living in low-cost hotels to afford the very best restaurants and feed their hunger for knowledge.
In the summer of 1993, Luke learned of an opening for a Sous Chef at Chewton Glen Hotel and applied successfully, then became Senior Sous Chef only ten months later. He flourished in the atmosphere that had impressed him so much during that early week of work experience, until in November 2003, he was appointed Executive Head Chef in what is described by Condé Nast as "one of the world's best hotels".
Luke would describe himself as relatively shy and has never courted celebrity-chef status, but he now enjoys representing the Chewton Glen across the industry and at local events such as The New Forest Show, Milford Food Festival and at Christchurch Food Festival where he has great fun giving demonstrations with his great friend of over twenty years, James Martin. Recently he also shared James's TV studio for an episode of 'Saturday Kitchen' with an audience of three million viewers. How shy is that?
As Executive Chef, each day brings new guests with different needs and challenges. Luke usually works until lunch has been completed, then returns to his home in Barton-on-Sea to spend precious time with wife Claire and children Chloe and Jamie, before returning for the evening until late. He still keeps busy as a chef but also manages forty staff, controls a considerable budget, finds and procures top local produce, teaches, plans, organises, socialises and is a role model for his team. The Vetiver Restaurant has the very highest standards and Luke leads by example, to ensure these never vary. There have been many rungs up this high ladder since Pinocchio's, but as he approaches twenty-one years at The Chewton Glen Hotel this summer, the enthusiasm first kindled in his teens still shines out, reflected in the wonderful dishes served to the hotel's guests.