Matt Mason has a passion for cooking at Devon's Jack in the Green
PUBLISHED: 12:47 10 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:47 10 February 2015
What keeps a chef cooking and turning out fantastic food in the same kitchen for two decades? Love, of course, says SUSAN CLARK
Photography by Ross Hayward
Love affairs, as we all know, come in many different shapes and sizes. There’s the childhood sweethearts who will celebrate 50 years together one day, the shy boy who’s best friend is the family dog and then there’s those dedicated chefs whose passion for food and cooking has only grown with the passing years.
Matt Mason – head chef at the hugely successful Jack in the Green – is one of the those chefs and all the more interesting for the fact that unlike those who hop around the country’s top kitchens, Matt has been cooking in the same place for 20 years this year. And if that wasn’t enough of a love affair to merit a mention in our Valentine’s issue, Matt met his wife Joanne at the Jack in the Green where she has also worked as manageress for 20 years.
If you’ve not already eaten at The Jack (as the name is often shortened to) get a date in your diary. The first time I ate there the actor and former Bond star, Roger Moore, had taken a detour for lunch en route to Torquay and if it’s good enough for Bond, it’s definitely good enough for me.
The first thing you’ll get when you step into the restaurant is an enthusiastic welcome which, according to Matt, is the start of your foodie experience. And regardless of what you order to eat, he and his team have one single goal in mind which is to send you home happy and with a feeling you’ve been well looked after throughout your meal.
Matt, who grew up in Sampford Peverell, near Tiverton, trained at the two Michelin- starred Gidleigh Park under the iconic chef Shaun Hill and when he says the food that comes out of his kitchen at The Jack needs to connect people to a sense of place and region, make them feel welcomed to the table and happy once they have eaten, he is honouring that ethos that turns a good chef into a great chef.
“There is a thought process behind everything we buy and do and why we do what we do. This means there is a little bit of me, and of course my team, in what comes out of our kitchen at The Jack in the Green,” he says.
This is chef speak, of course, for we really care about what we do which translates to we really care about what we are cooking and serving you.
Matt is also a champion of locally sourced ingredients and justifiably proud of having worked hard to ensure that many of the key products that will end up on your plate have travelled less than ten miles to get there. It’s something the London chefs can talk and dream about but it takes the determination of an experienced chef working in a food-producing region to make a reality.
But while Matt and his team will start from a premise of keeping their dishes simple and regional, you can see from these pictures that once the kitchen has worked its own unique brand of magic, what is presented is not the kind of food you’d be knocking up for yourself at home.
One of the things that keeps the job so interesting, says Matt, is the enthusiasm of the young chefs in training who pass through his kitchen on their way to careers throughout the South West and one of the biggest changes he has noticed in the last 20 years is the increase in the number of females entering the profession.
“They turn up here and demonstrate such commitment and focus it is clear that the only thing that lies ahead for them is a promising future,” he says. “I pass on the knowledge I’ve gained in 20 years of cooking and I feel really proud when I see them going on to win awards.”
And since he’s clearly not one to let the grass grow, Matt has his own sights set on a number of new initiatives for 2015 including establishing the pub’s own allotment down the road so that he can make sure the vegetables that come into his kitchen are, he says, just the way they should be “fresh, earthy, muddy and real”. Lots of people talk about keeping it real. Lots of people have no real idea what that means but here’s a chef working quietly behind scenes who is doing just that. His food is bang on trend, his passion for cooking unabated and his eye fixed firmly on the future all of which usually only means one thing for the rest of us and that’s great food being cooked on our doorstep and made available at affordable prices.
What’s not to love?
Congratulations to Matthew and Joanne Mason who are celebrating 20 years of continuous service at The Jack in the Green. Working with landlord, Paul Parnell, manageress Joanne was part of the original launch team with Matthew joining just a year later. The couple, who married in 2012, have two sons Charlie, now aged 11 and Max who turned five in December. Landlord owner, Paul Parnel, says: “Matt and Jo are an incredible double act that any publican or restaurateur would kill for. To hold on to them both for 20 years is a real coup and it’s a pleasure to be able to consider them as close friends now. Their loyalty and professionalism has been immense.” Matt admits the time has flown by and says: “Wow! To think it’s been 20 years already. We’ve come such a long way but I know there’s still so much more we can do. We have an energetic and young team in the kitchen at the moment who are as hungry for success as I am. “They, combined with the core of excellent and local suppliers we work with, means there’s no shortage of ideas in the kitchen so expect more innovation, and just as importantly consistency, into 2015 and beyond. And Jo, of course, will be making sure everything else runs smoothly behind scenes!”
Awards & Accolades
Matt works closely with landlord/owner Paul Parnell who bought the pub at Rockbeare near Exeter in 1991 and together, they have transformed what was an ailing and dilapidated roadside Inn into a multi-accoladed dining pub that spends £350,000 a year on locally sourced food and drink and employs 30 staff. Over the last two decades, the pub has been awarded (and retained) a Michelin Bib Gourmand for offering outstanding value for money, held 2 AA Rosettes since 1996 and for the last five years has been one of the UK’s Top 50 Gastropubs (finishing 20th in 2014). Matthew is now a ‘Master Chef of Great Britain’ and in 2007 won the South West Chef of the Year title and also Devon Life’s Devon Chef of the Year. The Jack is also a regular in the UK’s Top 100 Restaurants. And if you want a clue as to how the business remains so successful, ask Matt about the cookbooks on his shelves and you’ll soon learn that both he and Paul keep a close eye on upcoming food and drink trends to ensure what they serve will hold its own with even the most discerning of diners.