When Le Champignon Sauvage picked up the Outstanding Contribution award at last week’s 2013 Observer Food Monthly awards, there could have been no more deserving a winner than a restaurant that had shown such consistent excellence as the one run for 26 years by David Everitt-Matthias and his wife, Helen. Here, we pay our own tribute to David, to Helen, to his team and their work…
Sometimes, it requires time to be able to reflect on something properly. It was in November of 2011 that we tasted the first dishes that would make it into the third book of recipes from David Everitt-Matthias. Back then, we had discussed, via a few conversations, the kind of recipes that might feature, and how these might differ from his first book, Essence (2006) and its follow-up, Dessert (2009). Essence won the World Gourmand Cookbook Award for the UK’s ‘Most Innovative Cookbook’. Dessert won the World Gourmand Cookbook Award for the UK’s ‘Best Cookbook’, and took second place in the overall world rankings. These books so richly deserved their rewards: they were fantastic books which looked good and featured recipes that worked. What more could you want from a recipe book? What they also did, though, was to bring the remarkable skill and creativity of a chef, awarded and highly praised within his own industry, to the masses; to those who hadn’t eaten at his restaurant. To the initiated, David’s first two books showed off the trademarks of his food: exciting combinations of flavour and a use of ‘wild’ ingredients, which reflected a love and knowledge of foraging. They also showcased the talents of Lisa Barber, whose elegant images captured the variety and beauty of David’s food.
In 2011, when the first ideas were fizzing around for this third book, Beyond Essence, David had just reintroduced a tasting menu at Le Champignon Sauvage. It was the perfect way to reacquaint ourselves with his food. But it was less a reacquaintance with a food we thought we knew and more a revelation: a realisation that the bar had been raised even higher. Things that were so moved on from our first meal there some six years previously. All of the incredible dishes we tasted that day made it into the book, from the sweet, smoky, salty flavours of his Witchill Potatoes, Caramelised Onion Purée, Buffalo Milk and Turkey Prosciutto, to the Tartare of Dexter Beef, Homemade Beef and Wasabi Mayonnaise. These were amazingly memorable things to taste.
When Beyond Essence was published at the beginning of this year, it seemed a pertinent title on more than one level. It is a second mixed collection of both savoury and sweet recipes. But this is a collection that shows just how much David’s food has evolved over those years, onwards and upwards from where his food was. Always remaining true to its foundations, but always trying new things, daring to go further, do more.
Go to Le Champignon Sauvage and eat David’s food: ignore the Michelin stars and the reviews and all the other accolades, and just focus on what you’re engaged with: you would have to conclude that you were eating some of the best food you had ever tasted and would be doing so very affordably indeed. You would have to rethink flavours, because they are presented to you tasting more of themselves than you will ever have noticed before. You would find such harmony in the way that ingredients and elements are brought together in a dish. In short, you would appreciate all of the craft and learning that one man can put into a dish.
Cook from David’s books and you will find something of this magic across every recipe. He is one of the finest chefs of his generation in the world. He just so happens to be one of its finest teachers too, and these books bear testament.Author photograph © Lisa Barber