Lifelong journey for the love of good food

With a growing trend for restaurants being run by chef/proprietors, does that mean the end of the restaurateur? Catherine Scott meets Matthew Lockwood who doesn’t think so.

Matthew Lockwood

matthew Lockwood was just 26 years old when he opened his restaurant, Lockwoods in Ripon.

Now, ten years on, he is reflecting on the last decade and how his business, and he himself, has developed.

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Although he likes to cook, Matthew is a restaurateur and prides himself as such.

“There is a growing trend towards chefs running their own restaurants, but I think that must be extremely difficult,” says Matthew.

“There are so many things involved in running a business like this, to keep it successful, of course the food is very important, but so are the staff and all the other things which go into it. It must be extremely difficult to concentrate on the business side of things when you are in the kitchen all the time.”

Since opening in 2005 with a relatively young Matthew at the helm Lockwoods has gone from strength to strength, winning accolades from its diners and the industry itself. Lockwoods has been named Neighbourhood Restaurant of the Year, one of the best places for Sunday lunch and is a regular in The Good Food Guide.

Matthew says one of the main ingredients to his successful business is his staff, many of whom have been with him since the beginning. Another is the clear vision of what he wants his restaurant to be, although he admits Lockwoods has had to change and adapt over the years. Matthew refers to it as the Lockwoods journey.

“We’re still learning, we’re still growing, and we’re still loving what we do,” he says. The aim, he says, is and always has been to create a relaxed atmosphere where people can enjoy quality food and using the best ingredients and giving people what they want, be they vegan, coeliac or any other food intolerance.”

Matthew grew up with food and never really wanted to do anything else.

His mum was a food demonstrator and instilled in him a love of good food.

“As a child, I remember coming home from school and being greeted by the smell of home baking. The memory still puts a smile on my face as I think of it now. It was those moments that first made me associate food with more than simply a way to satisfy hunger. It gave me that first hint of the sense of satisfaction that can be gained from making people happy and seeing them enjoy themselves.”

His mum is still a very important part of his life. “Mum still cooks and she brings her baking down here for us to sell.”

Although Yorkshire has been his childhood home, he now lives in Harrogate with girlfriend and artist Amy, Matthew spent his early years in the south of England has his father worked as a shepherd before changing career path and working for big companies such as ICI.

The family moved to Swainby near Stokesley 
and although Matthew had 
an interest in food he ended up reading Politics and History at Nottingham University.

But the love of cooking 
never went away, and he had several part-time jobs in local pub kitchens and restaurants.

“I watched and learned from experts as they prepared and served a seemingly endless variety of dishes. They worked hard, and the very best of them never lost their passion, their enthusiasm, their commitment. I remember seeing how important the 
little things were. How attention to detail matters just as much as the recipes and flavours.”

When he wasn’t helping out in the kitchens he was front of house, serving customers and clearing tables and watching how the staff were managed.

“The best bosses were those that worked with you. I made a commitment then that any team of mine would do their best possible job for me because they know that I am there with them, there for them, and that I have done everything that I am asking them to, and would do it again. That philosophy has permeated into the very fabric of what Lockwood’s is today. Whether I am there to see it or not, I know my team are there for you, doing what they do best.”

And it seems to be working, Mimi, front of house, has been with Matthew since the beginning and his chef, who used to work at the Michelin starred Star Inn, Harome has been with him for years.

Matthew helped set up Babylon and Manrai in Leeds but realised that big business wasn’t for him. And at the age of 26 he felt he had learnt enough to open his own restaurant. “I can’t believe how naive I was,” he says. “I travelled to Spain, where my dad was living, and asked if he’d back me and with the support of the banks as well I went looking for a premises.”

After a long search he found an old toy shop in the historic city of Ripon and set about turning his dream into reality. “We say we are a blend of tradition and contemporary,” he says of the restaurant which recently under went an extensive refurbishment.

As Matthew believes staff are key, so are his customers and he is never complacent about their patronage.

“We are well supported. But we do organise a lot of events just to keep giving them something new.”

The evening before I visited Matthew and his staff organised a tapas evening with street barbecue, but there are also regular Call My Bluff wine tasting and other events aimed at setting Lockwoods apart from other businesses. Matthew has also been very savvy about not over expanding, a mistake many successful restaurants have made, although he would like to open another business, possibly a pub with his sister, Cat.

But what is clear is that Lockwoods is much more than just a business to Matthew and he will do nothing to jeopardise its place in the heart of Ripon.

Lockwoods work closely with Ripon’s Workhouse Museum which six years ago decided to grow heritage varieties.

And on Saturday July 25 Lockwoods is hosting a pop-up restaurant in the gardens.

All food will be cooked and prepared by Matthew Lockwood and the team from Lockwoods. “The union between Lockwoods and the Workhouse Museum is a perfect way to get the most local produce into our dishes in the shortest time,” says Matthew.

The heritage garden is in its fifth season growing heritage varieties of vegetables and fruit trees alongside wild meadow flowers.

Lockwoods restaurant has been open since 2005, and prides itself on using fresh, local and seasonal produce to create delicious dishes. Throughout the growing season customers can see the healthy and nutritious dishes which can be made from the harvest of unusual heirloom varieties.

www.lockwoodsrestaurant.co.uk