Scotland's first female exec head chef chats to us before the launch of her menu at the new Blythswood Square Hotel restaurant

Famously a male dominated industry with a perceived aggressive environment (think Gordon Ramsay), working in a restaurant kitchen hasn’t been the most appealing career choice for many women over recent years, with only a few notable exceptions. So the news that one of Glasgow’s luxury five-star hotels has employed the first female executive chef in the role in Scotland has been met with varying degrees of celebration – and disbelief that it hasn’t happened sooner.

From waitress to pastry chef and beyond, Gillian Matthews discusses her career trials and tribulations on the route to the top job, just days before her menu takes centre stage in the newly opened restaurant Bo & Birdy at at The Blythswood hotel.

From waitress to pastry chef

“I got into hospitality when I started working at La Bonne Auberge where I was a breakfast and lunch waitress. This was when I was figuring out what I wanted to do – I’d done well at school and went on to university but I realised that it wasn’t quite for me, so I got this waitressing job and from there I did their job swap scheme and tried the kitchen for a day and just loved it straight away.

“So I applied for a job in the kitchen and got in, and I spent two and a half years there before coming to Blythswood Square. I came here in January after the hotel opened, and joined the restaurant team working under Dan Hall, the executive chef at the time.

“I worked my way through the kitchen for two years and I realised that I wanted to move into pastry but unfortunately at the time I couldn’t do that here (at the Blythswood), so I was covering the pastry chef’s holidays and days off.

“I was doing the job occasionally but I really wanted to do it full time so I left the hotel and went to work at the Number One Chocolate Factory, which sells handmade chocolates and desserts. When the pastry chef moved on, I was offered the chance to come back then moved up the ranks.”

‘I was the only female in the kitchen’

“There were always more guys in the kitchen when I first started out. For example at La Bonne Auberge there was only me and one other female chef.

“And when I started here I was the only female in the kitchen – there had been a female breakfast chef but she had moved on – but now there’s loads of us. For example last night’s dinner service was myself and two other female chefs, so there’s more of an even balance now.”

‘I jumped at the opportunity’

I never thought this career would be something I’d get into, but when the opportunity came up to try another department for the day I jumped at it. I’d started seeing one of the chefs at La Bonne Auberge (who is now my husband) and he’d come home and talk about his day.

“He was just so passionate about his job which made me want to see what it was like. That’s why I tried it and instantly understood and enjoyed it.”

SEE ALSO: First look at the menu at Glasgow’s newest restaurant Bo & Birdy

On being Scotland’s first female exec head chef

“I feel very honoured to be the first female exec chef in a five star hotel in Scotland. “I’m really thankful that the team here has given me the opportunity because I haven’t worked in a wide variety of different places. I haven’t travelled or been in different kitchens so I feel really grateful that they’ve given me the opportunity.”

What diners can expect from Bo & Birdy

“We’ve stripped the menu back and are working on the ethos that simplicity is the new luxury. “A lot of our dishes focus on one key ingredient – you won’t find over-complicated flavours but instead there may be three or four elements on each plate and a focus on that key ingredient whether it is our hand-dived Orkney scallops or our Wagyu beef – we just want to let the ingredients speak for themselves.”

My favourite dish on the new menu…

“The pork pie – a handmade slice of Ardunan Farm pork pie served from a trolley to the table with pickles and mustard. “I love it. No-one else has made it yet, I’ve made every one. I want to make them all.”

My favourite Scottish product to cook with…

“I love the pastry side of things still so I love creating the pastry dishes as I think there’s so much freedom in pastry, or that’s what I find anyway.

“I really enjoy working with the Katy Rodgers dairy products – we are using the yoghurt to make our frozen yoghurt as one of our desserts and we use the crème fraîche in a couple of our dishes as well.”

My role model to be a chef…

“I really admire Clare Smyth as a chef. She has her own restaurant, Core, and she worked under Gordon Ramsay for years at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Hospital Road in London.

“I’ve wanted to visit her restaurant for a while as she’s an extremely accomplished chef that I admire.”

Bo & Birdy opens on 15 May at the Blythswood Square Hotel. For more information, reservations and menus visit the hotel website or restaurant social media.

About The Author

Rosalind Erskine

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related.

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