Matthew Young, head chef
What made you first get in to cooking?
I had oysters when I was 22, then I started cooking professionally at 30. I was in the food industry since I was 26, when I was working at Neal’s Yard, but the cooking didn’t really start until I was older.
Were the oysters your eureka moment?
Pretty much. I didn’t really like food before that at all. Then I had a date with my ex-girlfriend and she introduced me to oysters and food basically. They were my gateway into food and I think an understanding. I would still say they’re my favourite thing to eat. It’s one of a kind, if you understand that then you’ve got a good understanding for food.
How did you make your way into cooking after that point?
I cooked a lot of food at home after that. I had no interest in becoming a head chef or a chef.
I just wanted to cook so it became more important. I just wanted to get on and do something with it.
Are you self taught?
Yes. Through cook books.
Any particular chef that you looked to for this?
Nigel Slater was the first book I ever owned, Appetite. I like the way he wrote, it was very easy.
He likes to mix up the recipes with his life anecdotes - was this something that attracted you to his style of cooking?
No, for me it was more about how he approaches food generally, his attitude towards food. I didn’t have an attitude towards food so reading someone’s attitute towards food inspired me to take on what he was doing and help create my own attitude to food.
Alongside Nigel, did you have any other influence on your cooking?
To be honest, I grew up with no influences whatsoever, apart from Mars Bars and cans of Coke. Anything I could grab on to was good.
So you had a real sweet tooth?
No, I just didn’t know how to cook, so anything was good.
You’re at home, getting stuck into Nigel’s cook book, how did you progress into the cooking world?
I bought more books, went out for dinners - I spent a lot of money going out and dining, and I just continued along that vein, really.
Where was the first place you worked in?
Anchor and Hope in Waterloo. I worked there for four years and found out it was a good foundation for a lot of things really, and their attitude towards how to cook was very good.
What do you think was the most important lesson you learned there?
Their attitude towards what it means to be cooking.
Where did you head next?
I went to the Rochelle Canteen, briefly, then I spent a lot of time working in restaurants in New York, working for free.
For free? How come?
I just did about 30 different restaurants in six months.
Was there one particular restaurant that shone out for you in New York?
Il Buco, which is an Italian restaurant run by Ignacio Mattos and I had an understanding with him as it was very similar to where I worked at Anchor and Hope but it was Italian cooking. There was a real passion for food with him, which was really nice to see. But apart from that I’d have to say there weren’t many places I was inspired by. A few places were interesting to view and to work in the kitchens gave me a good insight in to how people approach food.
When you returned back to London, what was your next move?
During this time, were you beginning to work out what sort of food you’d like to specialise in for a specific restaurant?
That was sort of what happened at Wapping. I started cooking at Wapping what seemed to be Italian food but actually I was trying to make sense of what I wanted to achieve - a fresher, tasting menu. Italian food is cooked to order, fresh, so you can’t do it any other way, you can stew things don but on the whole it’s quite fresh cooking.
Is that something that carried through to here in Mayfields, that Italian slant? How would you describe the menu here?
I don’t describe it as Italian. I think stylistically, it’s more French. I come from a British attitude towards cooking with some Italian thought process involved so I would say it’s a mixture of those.
What would you say is your signature dish?
The lemon sole dish is what’s been on the menu since the beginning.
What would you say is so special about how you cook it?
There’s no special thing about it. The cooking here is all componentry. The approach to cooking here is because the kitchen’s so small, it’s all about components piled together, about a balance of different things together on a plate. That actual dish in particular is the best example of that.
Are there any other dishes that just fly out of the kitchen when you put them on the menu?
If I put chips on, they would.
Do you cook chips in a particularly interesting way?
No, I’m joking. I wouldn’t do chips. I’m just saying it’s a small menu so everything sells. It’s only eight dishes, so you’re not exactly not going to sell anything.
How often do you change the menu?
Within reason, it’s everyday.
What’s the most important ingredient to you in the kitchen?
They all are.
Last meal on earth?
Where do you like to eat when you’re not working here?
Claire Roberson, owner
Before Mayfields, we guess you were better known for your pop-up nights, Shacklewell Nights. How did the move to Mayfields come about?
Well, I worked in pop-ups and ran a couple of kitchens and it just seemed the natural way to go.
Did doing the pop-ups give you a better idea about how you’d want your restaurant to be?
Kind of, but it was very different to what we do here. I did pop-ups and dining events for about five years, along with other projects.
Have you always cooked?
I started cooking when I was 14 and I worked my way up. I had other jobs but I always came back to it.
What is it about food that kept you coming back?
I just think it’s what I’m meant to do really.
What was the concept behind Mayfields?
Just a good, neighbourhood place to eat.
Was it hard finding the right location? How did you find the space on Wilton’s Way?
My business partner is Borough Wines and they had this site and they approached me to come in with them. So they’re partners and we stock their wines but they leave the running of the place to me. The venue used to be a grocers, then and fish and chip place - it’s been all sorts of things.
What’s the idea behind the menu?
The menu is very much under Matt’s direction. We spent a bit of time in Paris before we set it up and had a look a what was going on there and that was the way Matt and I wanted to eat.
How did the collaboration with Matt come about? Did you know each other beforehand?
No, we were introduced and we kind of went from there.
So it was a like a dining-world blind date?
Yeah - sort of.
Do you have much input into the menu or dishes?
It’s mainly down to Matt. We talk about ideas and stuff we’re going to do, how dishes work and things like that.
You were recently named as one of the Observer Food Monthly’s favourite 50, have you been surprised with the success of the restaurant?
Yeah, really surprised. It’s been good, we’re really lucky as people seem to really like it and what we do. I think it’s because we’re different and it’s a very informal way of service here, it’s casual, no-pressure dining but with good quality food and wine.
There’s so much going on in the Hackney dining scene at the moment - how do you keep people coming back?
I think it’s because we’re good at what we do and that keeps people coming back. The menu changes all the time so there’s different things on. We just want to have fun. We have a number of regulars now and we have people that come from abroad and from West London so I guess it’s become a destination restaurant.
What would you say is the dish that best sums up Mayfields?
Probably the lemon sole dish and the chocolate mousse too. They’re always on the menu.
Can you tell us a bit about the events you’ve been hosting in restaurant?
Once a month we do a one-off thing, just to keep it fun for us guys. We did a pappardelle night, we did a burger night, Burger Monday. We do one-off tasting menus and every month on a Sunday - because we’re normally closed on a Sunday - we invite guest chefs to come in and they take over the restaurants. We promote the nights through social networks, press and mailing lists.
Where do you like to eat when you’re not working?
In central I go Koya quite a lot and I go to Silk Road in Camberwell a lot too. Round here, I guess Brawn, it depends really. At the moment I’m really into Franco Manca as it's something completely different to what we do here.
Last meal on earth?
Poached eggs on toast.
Mayfields closed September 2014.