In the 20 years since David Everitt-Matthias opened Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham alongside his wife Helen, he has never missed a day's service in the restaurant's kitchen. This amazing statistic is typical of a chef thoroughly dedicated to his craft. And it is through this meticulous approach that the restaurant has amassed a range of accolades over the period of his tenure, including two Michelin stars and four AA rosettes.
Through the late 1970s and early 1980s, Everitt-Matthias worked in London, including a spell at the Four Seasons hotel and a stage at La Tante Claire under Pierre Koffmann. In 1987 he and his wife Helen bought a site in Cheltenham and set up Le Champignon Sauvage, where he has been perfecting his classically rooted, innovative and gutsy French cooking for the past two decades.
It was the time spent in Koffmann's kitchen that was to have the biggest influence on him in his formative years. It was Koffmann, he says, who taught him to value every last bone and sinew that he bought.
In order to achieve this, he has versed himself, and all his chefs, in classical larder skills, enabling him to realise the full culinary potential of any food item handled. Everitt-Matthias is a former Ealing student and was once National Chef of the Year.
At a time when many chefs opt for portion-control purchasing, Everitt-Matthias insists on his chefs learning butchery - he sent a former second chef to work a stage in a traditional butcher's shop. Chefs, he believes, must understand and esteem cheaper cuts of meat as highly as more expensive ones. Knowing how to work with them is an essential step on the road to becoming a thoroughly trained professional.
As Phil Howard, a member of this year's judges panel, said of Everitt-Matthias: "He's a chef more in touch with seasonal, regional and local produce than any other I know."
His dedication to British produce is evident in his book, The Essence of Perfection, where his glossary of wild foods includes the whereabouts and uses of everything from acorns and burdock to lesser-known ingredients such as alexanders, a lovage-like estuary herb, and hairy bittercress, a peppery salad leaf.
Everitt-Matthias's dedication to training his own staff is also exemplary. A passionate supporter of the Young Chef, Young Waiter competition, he willingly enters eligible members of his restaurant brigade and closes his kitchen to support them in the final.
It was this passion and the dedication to his craft that most impressed this year's panel of judges. "His cooking is an inspiration to everyone. His food isn't faddish, it has a character of its own and it's purist, pukkah cooking," commented Howard.
Bruce Poole, last year's winner of the Chef Award and a member of this year's judging panel, said Everitt-Matthias's passion was to be hugely admired. "He's one of those people who truly deserve to win the award by dint of their dedication. The graft he puts into his business is remarkable."
Michael Caines, another judge and former winner, agreed. "There's something raw about David's passion and commitment," he said. "It proves that outside of London you can run a business that's creative, successful and inspirational."
It's the huge success that Everitt-Matthias has built up over the past 20 years, through devotion to his profession, that marks him out as a figurehead in the industry. "It's a fantastic example to young chefs who want to go out, put money into a restaurant and practise their craft," concluded Howard. "Dedicate yourself to the industry, run your own restaurant and you can win this award."
Michael Caines, director of food and beverage, Abode Hotels & Michael Caines Restaurants
Peter Harden, director, Harden's Guides
Philip Howard, chef-proprietor, the Square
Gaby Huddart, editor, Square Meal
Bruce Poole, chef-proprietor, Chez Bruce
David Everitt-Matthias, chef-patron, Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham
John Campbell, head of food and beverage, the Vineyard at Stockcross, Berkshire
Andrew Fairlie, chef-proprietor, Andrew Fairlie@Gleneagles, Auchterarder
Eric Chavot, head chef, the Capital hotel, London