“It's like a gift that keeps on giving. The network of support and friendship that develops over the years is truly special.”
Matthew won the Roux Scholarship in 2005 at the age of 29. He staged at Les Pres d’Eugenie in France. He is now Chef-Patron of Betony by Matt Tomkinson at The Kings Head in Whiteparish.
Rather than undertaking conventional chef training, Matthew started his culinary career with a holiday job in a supermarket canteen while completing a degree in hospitality management. A stint in a vegetarian restaurant in his native northern England followed, cementing his desire to convert what had previously been a hobby into a vocation. After graduation, and working at various pubs and restaurants, he set himself the ambition to work at some of the country’s best restaurants.
Fast forward to 2005 and, while working as junior sous at the Michelin-starred Ockenden Manor in rural West Sussex, Matthew won the coveted Roux Scholarship. For his stage, he followed in the very first scholar Andrew Fairlie’s footsteps to work at Michel Guérard’s three-star Les Prés d’Eugénie in the south-west of France. He was the first scholar to return to a restaurant that another scholar had already staged in and it was an opportunity that gave him the experience he needed to move to a head chef’s position at The Goose in Britwell Salome, near Oxford. It was here that he won his first Michelin star in 2008.
Prior to opening his restaurant Betony’s at The King’s Head in 2019, Matthew oversaw two restaurants at The Montagu Arms country house hotel in the heart of England’s New Forest national park. He held a Michelin star at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant for seven consecutive years and was named Hampshire Chef of the Year in recognition of this achievement in 2014.
Where did you do your stage?
With Michel Guérard at Les Près d’Eugénie. The whole experience was like going to university, it was real life, sink or swim. Michel Guérard’s food was very refined but was also very soulful. It was rustic in a way but taken to a limit. It reflected the region with great foie gras, great beef, great poultry. It was definitely food that you wanted to eat.
What did you cook in the final?
Navarin of spring lamb with turnips and carrots, roast best end of lamb and sweetbreads; it was the perfect dish for me, something we happened to cook regularly at work and a personal favourite. I absolutely loved competing in the final.
How many times did you enter?
I was lucky enough to win on my second attempt; having got to the final the first year, I enjoyed the experience so much I had to enter again. On the day, everything went right and I managed to produce the dish to my best ability and it was just enough to win!
What do you remember most about the competition the year you won?
How special we were all made to feel for getting so far and the absolute shock of hearing my name called!
What advice would you give applicants?
The simplest advice I can give is do your best, at whatever stage give it everything you have and remember there will be a winner. So, if you make a mistake (as I definitely did) keep going and see it through – you never know.
Who are your culinary heroes?
Before competing, I had been influenced a lot by Nico Ladenis. Once I started to learn more about the Roux family, I realised how lucky I was to be involved with the scholarship. The family have turned the art of true hospitality into a profitable business and have never forgotten the experience of the guest.
What is it like to be a Roux Scholar?
Incredible, it's like a gift that keeps on giving. The network of support and friendship that develops over the years is truly special.
Tell us about your current role?
I am Chef Patron of Betony by Matt Tomkinson at The Kings Head in Whiteparish. We are a 50-cover pub/restaurant with eight rooms on the border between Hampshire and Wiltshire.