Meet the Chef - Matthew Green, Northern Belle
- Credit: Archant
Chef reveals secrets of success in the kitchen on board one of the world’s luxurious trains
Imagine cooking a gourmet dinner for 300 people in a 58-year-old kitchen little bigger than a cupboard. Then, just to make things a little more awkward, imagine you are rocketing along at up to 90mph while you’re doing it…
That’s what Matthew Green does every day at work since being promoted head chef this year on the Northern Belle, which proudly advertises itself as one of the world’s most luxurious trains.
And there have been times when he has had to quickly dodge hefty pans tumbling from overhead racks as the seven ornately-decorated 1930-style Pullman carriages take a curve on the track at full speed.
But 39-year-old Matthew, who learnt his trade on a catering and hospitality course at Barnsley College and still lives in the town, really wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.
‘I love my job,’ he says. ‘Every day while cooking I look out the windows and see a different view of some of the country’s loveliest countryside. It may be the rolling hills of the Lake District today, the mountainous Scottish Highland tomorrow, then next week I’m off to London. That’s my inspiration. What other chef can say that? Many restaurant kitchens don’t even have a window at all!’
The key to cooking for 300 passengers on a train, he explains, is preparation and being organised. That, and quick reactions when a pan comes crashing down. ‘The onboard kitchens were fitted in 1961 and still have many of the original fittings,’ Matthew explains. ‘The space is tiny with barely enough room for two people, so the menus have got to be thought out with that in mind
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‘Then there are the ovens. They aren’t regulated like normal ovens – they’re either on or they’re off – which means dishes requiring precision cooking like soufflés cannot be achieved, while the hot water is heated by grills above our heads. Other things you take for granted in a normal kitchen – like putting the rubbish out or popping to the shops for something you’ve run out of – obviously cannot be done.
‘But whether you’re cooking for 30 or 300, it’s being organised and prepared that makes it work.’
One thing Matthews insists on is using the best local seasonal ingredients – that means home-grown Yorkshire ones, wherever possible. And he loves giving a modern contemporary twist to traditional but now almost-forgotten English meals like Poor Man’s Potato Pie, Lamb Faggots and Fidget Pie.‘Maybe some of those dishes were forgotten for a reason,’ Matthew admits, with a laugh. ‘But with a bit of imagination it is possible to turn them into delicious meals. So I like to experiment.’
One of his favourite ingredients is good old rhubarb. Apparently the Yorkshire Triangle – originally a 30 square mile area bounded by Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield, but now shrunk to a mere nine square miles round Wakefield – is reckoned to produce the best in the world.
Before the Second World War, up to 200 tons of the stuff was being shipped off every night on a special Rhubarb Express from Ardsley station. The station closed in 1964 under the Beeching cuts, but there is still an annual Rhubarb Festival in Wakefield every February.
In fact Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb is, like Stilton cheese and Parma Ham, now legally protected under the European Commission’s Protected Names Scheme so it cannot be grown anywhere else. Matthew is already planning to create a new pudding for this year by combining it with Yorkshire Parkin and ginger trifle, which does indeed sound rather tasty. u
The Northern Belle departs various day excursions from several Yorkshire stations – including York, Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Wakefield, Harrogate, Huddersfield and Doncaster – during 2019. For more details and to book, see northernbelle.co.uk or call 01270 899681