Opinion: Why I love being a chef

Matt Baxter, chef at Dunsley Hall

Matt Baxter, chef at Dunsley Hall

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I’ve always wanted to have a career that was hands on and practical. My Dad was an engineer for the world renowned BAE systems that designs and build military vehicles.

I was interested in what he did and wanted to follow his footsteps. So I set out to train as mechanical engineer like him. I just knew I could never work in an office.

However, the reason I became a chef was that while I was in college I had a job as a pot wash at night and at weekends in a café and I started helping out with the food preparation. I enjoyed it and progressed quite quickly from there – everything else fell into place for me.

I started working in the kitchen in a leading local hotel and learnt by trial and error with no formal training.

A seminal moment for me was when one busy bank holiday I had to stand up to the plate. Our head chef was in hospital, the sous chef was on holiday and the stand in chef who was supposed to replace them didn’t turn up, so myself and an apprentice chef had to cook all the meals for customers in the bar, the beer garden and the restaurant.

We served in excess of 300 meals that day in two shifts from noon until 6pm then again from 6pm to 9pm.

That experience gave me the confidence to progress and I was promoted to sous chef after I had been there a year. I now lead the chefs in the kitchen at Dunsley Hall Hotel and am enjoying creating seasonal menus which we cook from scratch, using local suppliers and fresh ingredients from the kitchen garden or orchards when available.

I enjoy training the younger members of the kitchen team and I am constantly learning new techniques and dishes. I like cooking Great British dishes simply, but well-presented and that seems to go down well with our customers.

During the winter months I cook a lot of game for our shooting guests and game is becoming more popular with everyone who stays at the hotel. Fish features heavily on all our menus and obviously being so near to the sea at Whitby and further up the coast it is super fresh and very popular.

We are taking part in the new festival, on Saturday June 18 – Fish Fillet Feast, celebrating the rich fishing heritage of the North York Moors coast.

Like every chef, my ultimate ambition is to run my own restaurant at some time in the future serving similar dishes that I cook now.

I’ve always enjoyed being a chef, and have been described as being calm and unflappable in a busy service.

I am always up for the challenge of the kitchen and can’t see myself doing anything else.

When I’m not working I mainly just catch up with family and friends.