March 31, 2017
Pursuing Palatable Perfection
Cameron Matthews is constantly pursuing culinary perfection, infusing excellence into each dish he serves. But as this world class chef reveals, his team creating the delicacies at the Montville retreat is a mixture of overachievers with a touch of insecurity.
He’s a culinary genius whose creative concepts often baffle the minds of his team, but Cameron Matthews is one chef you won’t find constantly slaving away in his kitchen. For him, cooking stretches further than simple food creation, it’s the very essence of his being.
“Nine times out of 10 I’ve made decisions from my heart not my head. Heart and passion for me are massive,” he says, as we sit in one of the booths of the Long Apron Restaurant, “I work with an incredible team, they’re really overachieving and they have no concept of how good they actually are and that drives them to keep being better.”
Hailing from Petrie Gully, Victoria, Cameron’s extensive cooking career has lead him from the ferocious passion of an Italian family kitchen to satisfying the high-end palates of the Stamford Plaza’s guests. His consistent strive for perfection has often landed him with an extraordinary excellence to his work.
“My favourite quote is actually by a meat-head football coach,” he chuckles, “It’s the one from Vince Lombardi which says, ‘We will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence’. I love that, there’s only so much we as chefs can achieve with ingredients.
True success comes from the heart and passion that goes behind it.”
His dishes are intricate and full of flavour, each one seeking to tantalise the taste buds of the guests of Spicers Estate. For Cameron, the food is far more about experience than taste.
“It’s got to have a reason for being, a story, a soul! I want each dish to have a call to action,” he says, his passion oozing as he describes his love for the edible creations. “I want a couple to stop playing on their phones and go, ‘Wow! You have got to taste this!’. I like food that, when you eat it, it starts out delicious and then with every mouthful it tastes even better.”
Cameron is now taking his passion for palatable perfection past his Montville-based kitchen and into the world. Having been awarded a Churchill Fellowship, he’ll spend the months of April and May travelling the world to research sustainability in kitchens, a cause he says is necessary to save the high-end restaurant industry in Australia.
“I have nine-year-old twins and one of them has started her own cookbook, she wants to be a chef when she grows up,” Cameron lightly smiles as he discusses his daughter’s dreams.
“At the moment I can’t say yes to her and that kills me. The physical toll and the mental illness that I have incurred from almost 27 years in this industry is ridiculous and it needs to change.”
It’s got to have a reason for being, a story, a soul! I want each dish to have a call to action.”
The ‘hot-headed chef’ persona is so common and almost laughed at from the outside, but according to Cameron, this negative treatment of staff is not necessary and the stress incurred is not sustainable for the long term.
“I’ve known people who have been involved in hard drugs because they can’t handle the pressure,” he says.
“It’s not okay, these are human beings. There are a lot of people talking about these issues, but not much action. That’s why I’m using the Churchill Fellowship to travel the world to figure this out, we need action.”
Action that comes in the form of altering the way staff are being dealt with.
“I thought I had to be this insane angry chef to get what I needed … but one day a mentor of mine pulled me aside and said, ‘Cameron, character assassination doesn’t provide good career progression,’ and that changed everything for me.”
From that point, he learnt that teaching will always have better results than torture.
“A lot of the time things are wrong because of my inadequacies as a head chef to teach people and explain myself. If I have a team who knows that I value them and their work and knows why I want something done a certain way, we can be world class. That’s the advice I would give to young chefs as well. You are nothing without your team.”
With high hopes for his international adventure and the skills, experience and respect that comes with almost 30 years in the industry, Cameron’s drive for perfection may just be the change agent required to shift the culture for cooks. Sustainability among chefs means that delicious delicacies will continue to be delivered to our tables and creative temperaments can survive in high-end kitchens for the long haul.
And, according to Cameron, it’s the long haul that often results in the the most delectable dishes. Always the perfectionist, he claims, his best dish still hasn’t even been created.