Matt Lambert / Michelin Starred Chef
My road is simplicity. Managing expectations and exceeding my own is challenging, juggling life in the kitchen and being there for my family is complicated. Keeping things simple is the road I try to navigate. My food and the approach I take to cooking is both simple and honest. Life is complicated enough. My road is simplicity, what’s your road?
Tell us about your road. Was the destination always clear? How has the journey progressed?
Call it blind ambition if you like, I had a clear vision of the end goal at an early age; it was owning a restaurant of the highest calibre by the age of 21.
Aged 11, I tried to get a training position at a local West Auckland venue. Owner Garry Bates sent me away, but I returned at 14 to wash dishes and eventually take up a coveted apprenticeship.
A family move to Wellington saw me working at various venues in the city. We eventually started a small café, but it soon became apparent there was a significant gap between my perceived knowledge and my actual expertise.
Sometimes a setback becomes an opportunity. A return to Auckland ultimately led to a position with Michael Meredith at The Grove. Working with the best people is the surest way to learn what it takes to get to the top.
The Grove is special to me for another reason – it is where I met my wife, Barbara. To cut a long story short, she proved the perfect catalyst for a move to her homeland, the United States.
New York, and the prospect of working within the Michelin Guide, soon beckoned. I’m proud to say those were years influenced by some extraordinary talent.
However, it was important to me to attain a Michelin Star while in a position where any failure would be mine to own. We opened the Musket Room and success came in four months! I have to say, it’s been a tougher challenge than expected chasing a second Star; perhaps one day.
It is an inspiring story for young cooks. What drives you these days?
I want to do a great job of cooking people food. Success has afforded me opportunities to pursue that goal in a variety of places and with diverse people.
Experiencing the way other cooks apply the craft while working with passionate young talent is an exciting lifestyle.
As a boy from Henderson, New Zealand, I am grateful the connected world we live in facilitates such pursuits.
Which of your own beliefs or opinions have you had to challenge on your journey?
For a long time, I believed the delivery of world-class culinary experiences was solely my burden to carry; that any collaboration would dilute the vision.
Learning to embrace the power of teamwork to fast track projects and deliver better outcomes is a gift I attribute at least partly to Rodd & Gunn CEO, Mike Beagley. He's a significant and valued influence on my journey.
I find it deeply rewarding to work with emerging talent – people I would have viewed as competition in the past.
Your stated 'road' is 'simplicity'. How does it fit into your values?
When applied to the process of cooking, simplicity allows you to concentrate on executing things exceptionally well.
I believe it is a vital component of the success of Rodd & Gunn’s Lodge Bar operations, which I’m proud to assist as Executive Chef.
How do you refocus yourself and stay on top of your game?
I like to play drums. It’s physical and I get to hit things. The concentration drumming demands is surprisingly meditative.
And speaking of simplicity, after years of long hours in the kitchen, relaxing with my family is the ultimate step back.
Doing uncomplicated stuff with my boys – climbing trees, mucking around on boats – making memories I hope will stay with them for a lifetime. They certainly will be for me.
Residents and visitors to New Zealand can experience Matt Lambert’s ‘Simplicity’ approach to cuisine at two Lodge Bar venues in the country -
Auckland: The Lodge Bar & Dining, Commercial Bay premise, 7 Queen Street, Auckland
Queenstown: The Lodge Bar & Dining, 2 Rees Street, Queenstown
Follow Matt Lambert’s journey on Instagram: www.instagram.com/chefmattlambert/