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Mathew Hegarty tells us about his Top Chef adventure

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Mathew is one of the most popular contestants in the current series of Top Chef, if the Tweets written about him are anything to go by.

He’s the sort of positive, straightforward person you feel as if you’ve known for years, someone who could easily be one of your mates. And when it comes to his accent, I’m not going to bang on about it myself, the Tweets below say quite enough on the subject... 

tweets Math

tweets Math 2

 

And a last one, don't let the kids read that, thank you! 

tweet 12

 

That accent is down to Mathew being Australian. He’s 30 years old. He’s lived in Les 2 Alpes for a number of years, and is the Michelin-starred Chef at Le Chalet Mounier hotel restaurants. That’s right, he’s not only a nice guy, he’s also very talented too…

Mathew kindly allowed us into his kitchen, where he spends 17 hours a day, to tell us about his adventures as a Top Chef contestant.

Math Hegarty Franca Grassia 5

 During the interview, we also took the opportunity to learn more about his journey and personality.

 

Amandine: How did you end up as a contestant on Top Chef? Were you sought out by a producer for M6 or did you approach them? 

Mathew: A few years ago we applied with the previous Chef at Le P’tit Polyte (the Michelin-starred restaurant where Mathew is currently the Chef – Ed). At that time I was still a sous-chef, and we weren’t selected. M6 got back in touch with me this year. First of all, I turned them down because I had too much work on to free up 2 and a ½ months for filming. But as it was happening in October, out of season (for those of us working in ski resorts) and because the whole team at the hotel / restaurant encouraged me to do it, I eventually accepted M6’s offer.

 

A: Do you think you were right to accept it? What does a competition like this add when you’re already an accomplished Michelin-starred chef?

M: The experience of doing Top Chef has given me so much. I don’t regret it at all.
In terms of my cooking, this competition has brought me on in leaps and bounds.
I’ve also rediscovered the joys of working with simple produce and with plants. Not just vegetables but also herbs, flowers and leaves.
And on a personal level it’s been great for me because the other candidates and I are all on an equal footing. Here, in Les 2 Alpes, I’m the Chef and though I love the 12 people in my team and they’re more or less the same age as me, there’s always that hierarchical thing, whatever’s happening.
With the other Top Chef contestants, I had such a laugh! We had some really great times together. That forges a real bond.

 

A: Speaking of bonds, have you stayed in touch with any of the other contestants? Who are you closest to? And not so close to?

M: Yeah of course, we’re still in touch!
There are 2 people I’m still really close with now.
Justine (who was in my team) and Thibaut (in Hélène Darroze’s team). They both great, I love them so much. Justine wants to open her own restaurant with her dad and I think that’s a brilliant idea. Thibaut, the really good looking kid who lives in Guadeloupe, he’s my mate. He’s in his own world… and I’m not just talking geographically! (laughs) But he’s amazing. The 3 of us text each other all day, my phone never stops going off! We all take the mickey out of each other after every episode is aired. We all share this thing that makes us close.
Jérémy, the Belgian guy eliminated in week 2 is nice too. And Camille (on Etchebest’s team) is a really cool guy!
But honestly, there wasn’t anyone I found really unpleasant or annoying. Victor is maybe the one I had the least in common with but, you know, it wasn’t anything more than that.

 

A: What do you think of Michel Sarran, Philippe Etchebest and Hélène Darroze ? The chefs and judges of the 3 different teams in the competition? 

M: As I said in the show, and I hope they didn’t cut it out in the edit, Sarran is my dad, Darroze is my mum and Etchebest is my pain in the neck older brother. To start with, I wanted to be in his team because he’d sent me a note to congratulate my on my Michelin star (Mathew and his team have 1 star in the Michelin guide – Ed), so I had a little bit of a preference. In reality, he’s so demanding and exact that after an hour with him I didn’t want to be in his team any more (laughs). He’s a great guy but a little bit too much for me. Michel Sarran really reminded me of my dad. Honestly, he’s adorable, attentive, kind. He’s so lovely, it’s crazy!
A: When you said you wanted to give him a cuddle, it was so sweet.
M: But that’s exactly it, we hugged and cried together with Chef Sarran throughout the whole adventure!
Chef Hélène Darroze has quite a strong personality but she’s kind and really genuine. She’s great.
I didn’t really cross paths with Jean-François Piège much during the programme, he was just there to judge us. I didn’t really get to know him.

 

A: Which major Chef would you love to be judged by in the Top Chef competition? (without spoiling it for us if it actually happened, of course).

M: The Top Chef production team really outdid themselves with Christian Le Squer.
But being judged by a 3-Michelin-starred chef is a double-edged sword. It’s an honour but it can also cut you down to size and that’s really hard for your self-confidence.
In the trailer, you’ll see that there’s going to be a challenge with 100 MOF (Meilleurs Ouvriers de France). Imagine that: Etchebest x 100! (laughs). They’re all as demanding, tough and strict as him. I won’t say whether or not I personally took part, you’ll see that on M6, but it was agony for the contestants.
To be completely honest, I prefer being judged by my dad than any other Chef! He knows what I’ve done to get to that point, what I’ve been through. He came to eat at Le P’tit Polyte once. He’s the most important person I’ve had to cook for in my whole life. There are loads of Chefs I love and I really respect but their opinion will never be as important to me as my dad’s. He’s my best friend, we’re really close.
A: I imagine he’s in Australia, like the rest of your family. Are they able to watch the show out there?
M: They’ve found a website so they can watch the episodes on catch-up. They’re so happy they can follow my adventures on the television and they really get behind me every week.

 

A: Do you watch the episodes? How do you find yourself on-screen?

M: I watch myself and I think I’m… horrible! Just hearing my voice is so weird, I never thought I had such a strong accent, and I speak bad French. I hate seeing myself on screen! I’m not the sort of person who spends a lot of time in front of the mirror working on their look so when I watch the episodes it makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. Sometimes my mouth, ah forget it… it’s freaky (laughs).

A: Sorry, I have to interject there, you speak really good French!
M: Any chance you’d like to come and work with me in the kitchen if you can understand it?

A: I’d love to, but I can’t promise that you’d keep your Michelin star if that were to happen. I have to confess that sometimes in your interviews you seem a bit wiped out. Not just you, all the contestants seem like that. How does it work, do the production team interview you at 3 in the morning?
M: They make us do the interviews after the challenges, sometimes after midnight, so we’re all tired. And the interviews take a long time just to get a few dozen seconds of footage.
As a result, we look awful. And sometimes, we don’t know what we’re talking about (laughs).

 

A: It’s true, when you watch a TV show, you have no idea of all the effort that goes in to filming it. How does it all work? 

M: It takes 2 or 3 days to film each episode. We film 1 or 2 challenges at most in a day, it depends on the travel times and how long the challenges take. Between setting up the lights, the cameras being reset multiple times and the VT with the Chefs and presenter Stéphane Rotenberg, it takes a long time. Filming takes place every day apart from Sundays.
The audience wouldn’t know it, but we’re kept on a pretty tight leash. We keep our microphones on non-stop from the minute we get on set, even when they’re not filming us, because they’re listening to check that we don’t talk among ourselves or communicate with anyone outside. They also take away our mobile phones.

A: Why do they do that?
M: To make sure there’s no cheating between contestants or that we’re not passing information on to anyone outside. Journalists are always trying to get titbits beforehand, and the production team has to be really strict to avoid anything leaking.
There are also 2 people looking after us, like nannies really, we nicknamed them “maman” and “mamie”. They’re really nice. On the other hand, having to ask your mum if you can go to the toilet at the age of 30 is pretty odd...

 

To conclude this interview with Mathew: if you thought he seemed nice watching him on TV, you should know that in real-life, he’s even nicer. As proof, he invited us to a “fir tree – mushrooms – génépi liquor” party! How much more proof do you need that he’s really cool! ;) 

We set out to learn a bit more about him, and job done! Mathew has had an unusual journey and personality, you quickly realise as you follow his adventures in the land of Frenchies :)
We were also lucky enough to film him in his kitchen with his whole team. Here’s a preview of the video as we await the final cut!

And to any sceptics out there who say that Mathew must surely have the odd fault… we won’t lie, there are 1 or 2, but honestly this guy is far too nice for us to want to add any negatives to all those positives. Sorry. Call us wimps if you like, but it’s not going to happen!

 

Mathew if you’re reading this, the whole resort of Les 2 Alpes backs you all the way!
We’re crossing our fingers, arms and legs for you to get as far as possible in the Top Chef competition. We even cross our hair specially every Wednesday. So yes, we end up looking like Heidi (not Klum unfortunately, the other one…) but you’re definitely worth it :)
#TeamMathew

 

 

Interview by: Amandine Le Roux.
Photo credits: Amandine Le Roux et Franca Grassia. 

 

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