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Masterchef finalist Philli Armitage-Mattin: I got a one-way ticket to Japan and fell in love with Asian food

© Caitlin IsolaMaster
Chef finalist Philli Armitage-Mattin.
Master Chef finalist Philli Armitage-Mattin.

Philli Armitage-Mattin might be a chef by trade and a finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2020 but she admits her palate isn’t as refined as you might think.

“I love sweets and comforting flavours,” she says, with a laugh. “So basic – I’m all about sweetness. I love everything that’s bad for you, which is probably not good. But I also love umami and I love spice.”

The 30-year-old might say her palate is on the basic side, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know her stuff in the kitchen.

“I studied a master’s in chemistry, and my physics professor was actually the guy who works with Heston (Blumenthal),” she explains, which sparked her love of the science of food.

After working for Gordon Ramsay Restaurants, Armitage-Mattin left to become a development chef – “learning about food and science on a molecular level”.

If it all sounds a bit serious, Armitage-Mattin isn’t – she can’t stop giggling as we discuss her debut cookbook, Taste Kitchen: Asia. When writing the book, Armitage-Mattin delved deep into the psychology of food and discovered dishes are inextricably linked to memories. She remembers a ramen dish she ate in Japan, saying: “It almost made me cry. I’ve used that recipe, and it’s inspired the recipe for ramen in the book.”

Armitage-Mattin’s trip to Japan was a huge turning point for her – and is why her first cookbook is dedicated to Asian cuisines.

© Press Association Images
Taste Kitchen: Asia by Philli Armitage-Mattin.

“I was working at Gordon Ramsay’s in London at the time. That was where I was introduced to Asian flavours,” she says. “So that was when I was first introduced to miso and different umami flavours, which really heightened my cooking and my flavour palate.

“Then I bought a one-way ticket to Japan, and worked in different restaurants all across Asia. That’s where I really grew my love of Asian ingredients and cooking.”

Recipes in the book are inspired by everywhere from Hong Kong to South Korea, but what is the one cuisine Armitage-Mattin couldn’t live without? “I love Northern Chinese food,” she says. “There’s a recipe in the book, it’s like Chinese spiced lamb, Sichuan lamb chops – they’re amazing. I ate these lamb kebabs in Xi’an. They were lamb kebabs with Sichuan pepper, cumin and chilli. It’s Uyghur food so really intense Muslim-Chinese food, which is probably my favourite food in the world.”

Her passion for food is deep-rooted, but it’s not something she inherited from her mother. “My mum is Indian – there’s one dish dedicated to my mum in the book, it’s called my mum’s chapatis. Because my mum, she’ll fully admit she can’t cook,” says Armitage-Mattin, with a laugh.

“Fortunately we had a really good takeaway, so we’d get takeaway, and then she made chapatis and rice and dahl at home.”

© Press Association Images
Vietnamese-inspired caramelised pork bowls from Taste Kitchen: Asia. (Pic: PA)

Her love of cooking didn’t come until her father took her to eat at different restaurants.

“Going to restaurants and seeing these chefs work like dancers, I was enthralled,” she reminisces. “I was like, oh my gosh I need this – it’s so mesmerising looking at chefs. So that’s when my love of food really came into play, as well as watching programmes like MasterChef. Actually, MasterChef was my first cookbook – and I took it to interview for MasterChef.”

Armitage-Mattin ended up being a finalist. Despite praise from Michelin star chef and MasterChef judge Marcus Wareing, Armitage-Mattin admits she still gets imposter syndrome. “100%, I feel like I’m faking it all the time,” she admits.

“I think something’s a really good idea, then I’m like I’m not too sure. Then I get other people to taste it, and they’re like, oh my God it’s amazing. And I’m like, OK.”

Taste Kitchen: Asia: Six Flavours To Suit Every Taste by Philli Armitage-Mattin, photography by Phoebe Pearson, is published by Robinson, priced £26