Matt Lambert, Executive Chef & Co-Owner, The Musket Room, New York City
New Zealander Matt Lambert started cooking at young age – 11 he says – but had to wait a bit before getting a “real job” in the kitchen. He began apprenticing with New Zealand Restaurateur Garry Bates at 16 before moving on to the Culinary Program at Auckland University of Technology.
After graduation, he opened Sun Seair café with his mom (and cooking mentor). Believing he had more to learn about the business, he moved on, working first in Auckland at Mediterranean mainstay, Red, and alongside Chef Michael Meredith at The Grove, where he met his future wife Barbara.
It was here that Lambert says he honed his craft and developed a passion for combining classical techniques with Asian flavors. When Meredith encouraged him to try his hand in the U.S., he did, going first to John’s Café in Woodbury, Connecticut, as sous chef. Again, he used his upbringing and farm to table mentality to whip up seasonal menus while also incorporating the native flavors of New Zealand. After two years at John’s, he moved on to sous chef positions at New York’s Michelin-starred Public and later, to sister restaurant Double Crown, before becoming chef de cuisine of Public and Saxon + Parole.
He opened The Musket Room in 2013 in partnership with his wife, Barbara, who serves as manager, and Restaurateur Jennifer Vitagliano. Four months later, the restaurant, with its Kiwi leanings, received a Michelin star. His fearless flavor combinations, artful presentation and boundless creativity also landed him as a Rising Star Chef by StarChefs in 2015.
Symrise was able to pin him down for more of the backstory.
When you knew you wanted to be A chef: At age 11. My mother and grandmother cooked a lot and I learned from them. It started with baking. When you’re a kid you’re drawn to sugar and I loved baking cakes and cookies and stuff like that. People ask what you want to be when you grow up and I always said a chef. I went to a local restaurant at age 11 and asked for a job but they told me I was too young and to come back. So, at age 14 I started washing dishes. At 16 I began my apprenticeship.
Person who inspired you to cook: My mom and my grandmother. I loved being in the kitchen with them.
Chef mentor: Michael Meredith of New Zealand.
Signature cooking style: I don’t know how to answer that. I just do what intuitively feels right.
Favorite ingredient: Smoke, mostly with meats, pork specifically but also with cheese.
Favorite spin on a classic dish: The Musket mincemeat pie.
Trends you see in the kitchen: I’d be lying if I said I try and follow trends. I stay specific to my palate and to the things I enjoy. I really don’t pay attention to what other people are doing.
Where you get your inspiration: Whenever I go home to New Zealand, I get inspired. Also anytime I get out of the city and travel. Traveling is a big one. And of course my son. He’s my biggest inspiration.
Person you would love to cook for: Rapper Cam'ron or Jay-Z.
Best part of your job: I get to do what I enjoy.
Highlight of career (so far): Getting the Michelin star was pretty massive. So was opening the restaurant.
Advice to other chefs: It’s going to be a long journey. You can rush it but you won’t have the same sort of results.