Matthieu Hervé, 32, is the head chef at Château de Montcaud, a gourmet hideaway in the Gard department. Built in 1848 as a private residence of a silk manufacturer, it rose to glory in the hands of his son and philanthropist Florentin Collain. It became a hotel in the 1990s and since it was refurbished and opened under new management in 2018, is already making its mark as an oasis of tranquility, style and excellent gastronomy. Chef Matthieu tells Gill Harris all about his Michelin-starred experiences of the culinary world and his love of plain, simple bread and butter…
What’s your earliest memory of cooking?
Cooking has been my passion from an early age. I never liked school so I was desperate to get out and work as soon as possible. My uncle worked for Ducasse in Monaco, which showed me what I could aspire to with the right attitude and a lot of hard work.
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in Gisors, a small town in Normandy that gets a lot of rain.
What’s your culinary background?
I first trained in my hometown, Gisors, in Normady, and went on to Nice in the South of France where I spent five formative years at two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Chantecler at Hotel Negresco. I then got lucky and was accepted by Daniel Boulud to work at his restaurant in Montréal, Maison Boulud. Here I really learnt to buckle down and work hard for what I want to achieve. From Montreal I transferred to the eponymous two-star restaurant Daniel in New York where I experienced more of his general attitude which only deepened my respect for Boulud.
After New York, I came back to Europe, to Basel in Switzerland, where I worked under Peter Knogl at his three-star restaurant Cheval Blanc. Knogl taught me to pay attention to detail and not settle for any less than perfection.
Who and what are your biggest inspirations?
Daniel Boulud and everything he’s achieved. It is not easy for the French to succeed abroad, but he definitely has. Both his attitude and his cuisine are generous and purely inspirational; he has achieved so much through his hard work, and still manages to keep a friendly, family-oriented atmosphere in each of his 17 restaurants.
How would you describe your culinary style?
I like taking something traditional, and then working on it. Adding new ingredients, or slightly changing others, until I have a dish that I like – balanced yet offering my guests a new taste experience.
What’s your favourite dish currently on the menu at Château De Montcaud and why?
It will have to be the squab, stuffed with foie gras and served with fresh truffle – a signature dish at our gourmet restaurant Le Cèdre de Montcaud. I adore preparing it, and that it so perfectly matches the season with the foie gras and the Burgundy truffle. And I love that though it looks like a main dish it actually is a (cold) entrée.
Food-wise, what’s your favourite naughty treat?
Baguette fresh from the baker’s oven and a good slab of beurre demi-sel… may not be very naughty, but I could live on bread and butter!
What’s your favourite meal to cook at home?
I rarely cook at home…
What are your three favourite restaurants to dine in (not including your own!)?
Hotel de Ville, Crissier – I always dreamt of working there one day. Restaurant Jean-Georges, NY – this is where I’ve had the best meal ever. And La Villa Madie, Cassis – the most beautiful restaurant I have been to.
What do you think of the growing trend for vegan food?
To be perfectly honest I am more of a Côte de Boeuf kind of guy. I do, however, believe strongly in thoughtful cooking, sourcing my ingredients as locally as possible and making the most of them, i.e. not letting anything go to waste. Having said that, I am aware of the different food trends and I fully respect my customers’ preferences. I take them on board and try to ensure everyone leaves my restaurant feeling satisfied!
What would your last meal be?
On that note – a beef tartar (accompanied by bread and demi-sel butter, of course!).
What’s your ultimate ambition?
One day I’d like to own my own little family enterprise – a small, simple chambre d’hôtes with a good restaurant.