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Chef and Author Matty Matheson
Interviews

Interview With Chef Matty Matheson On Life, Food & His Book 'A Cookbook'

Marcus O'Laoire chatted with Matty in Dublin recently for F&W.

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Matty Matheson is a chef, a restaurateur, a TV host and author of the New York Times bestselling “A Cookbook”. Marcus O’Laoire is a DJ and lover of food and F&W contributor. They sat down together to talk about life, food, books and hopes for the future. Here follows their in-depth conversation... 

MOL: We’re here with Matty Matheson in Hen's Teeth in Dublin, I suppose the correct place to start off this chat is with your new book – 'A Cookbook'. The thing that really struck me about this book is that it is more than just a cookbook, it’s deeply personal, from your parents, your grandparents, to starting in kitchens, to now.

MM: "I always think that your own story is always the easiest one to tell and this is just a really truthful book in the sense that there are no gimmicks and no bullshit and everything in there is real. This was an easy book to tell. At first, I didn’t want to make it too much about anything other than the food, and there were times when I went a little left or right of that, but I always tried to stay central to what that food meant to me in that time and place. It’s not easy to write a book and the easiest thing I could think of was to tell my own ark, my story, through that culinary lens."

Try the recipe Matty's Seafood Chowder

MOL: What I found cool about that story is that you’ve broken this book into the different sections of your life. Can you remember a Bourdain oyster moment where you tasted something and thought “Food is for me”?

MM: "I don’t know if I had that chef moment where I ate something and went “oh I’m going to be a chef.” I grew up in a small town, there were no chefs that I idolized. It’s not like I grew up in France or had any kind of culture pointing me towards chefs. That being said, my grandfather was a chef. He was many things, but he was just Grampy to us.

Growing up and going to the Blue Goose and being so deeply ingrained in a restaurant, I never clued in… that was just going to Grampy’s. He lived in a one-room apartment behind the restaurant. You’d open his door, and go into an office, there was a pull-out couch where my parents would sleep and then another door you’d go through to the soda pop shop where we would sleep on air mattresses or the banquettes. We’d have to wake up at 6am and clear out before the restaurant opened. Literally, we lived in a restaurant."

MOL: So it was never a cool life to you, it was just… life? 

MM: "Definitely. I never had that epiphany moment, even going to culinary school, I only went to culinary school so I could go to Toronto. It was a means to go to the city. I didn’t care how I got there, but my parents told me I had to go to school. I couldn’t get into other schools because of my grades, so I got into culinary school with a very 'Whatever' kinda attitude, but when I was there, I started gaining more self-esteem.

For me, going to school meant I was always fighting everything and there was a lot of friction, but all of a sudden there were moments where it clicked. If I showed up and say, butchered a rabbit, or made a hollandaise, or made a good stock, that I’d get good grades, so suddenly I was getting good grades for the first time. I’d never really been good at something so suddenly I enjoyed culinary school. I really liked it. And then I dropped out. Not because I disliked it, but because I felt I was so punk that I didn’t need a piece of paper. I had high grades, I’m gonna graduate anyway and my friends are going on tour so I sort of just… got in the van with them!"

Matty Matheson with a fan at the book signing in Hen's Teeth. Photo: Zak Milofsky
Matty Matheson with a fan at the book signing in Hen's Teeth. Photo: Zak Milofsky

Try the recipe Matty's Pot au Feu

MOL: When did you hook up with VICE relative to then?

MM: "Well, from that time, there was a fourteen-year career in cooking before I got hooked up with VICE. I was working in French restaurants in Toronto, eventually worked my way up to sous chef, then I was running the kitchen in a restaurant called La Palette at the age of 26. Then we opened Oddfellows the same year.

That was the beginning of a time of real excess when it came to drugs, alcohol and partying, and a lot of ego, and being a psychopathic chef and, you know, living that lifestyle and then opening Parts & Labour a year-and-a-half later from Oddfellows was almost like a nail in the coffin. That was chaos. We were so busy and I was one of those typical chefs, you know… I can party harder than you, drink more than you, and still work more hours than you. Parts & Labour was a 136-seater restaurant with a 200-person basement punk bar with DJs. We would party there until everyone left and then lock the doors and party more, which fit the time and place of a 27-year-old chef. At the time it was the dream. But the brightest flame burns the quickest and three years in, I had my heart attack. 

MOL: And what about now, does that past feed into the present Matty?

MM: "I think people have expectations of me and I think that there are some misevaluations of who I really am, you know? I’m a big loud funny guy and whenever I meet people they’re like,  'You’re crazy, you swear and shout on TV' and to me that’s weird. I mean, Gordon Ramsay swears on TV and he’s an asshole, in the sense that he’s belittling people and yelling at people. I’m just a funny loud guy who’s covered in tattoos and people assume I’m crazy, but I’m the sweetest guy. On my TV show, I try and be super nice to everybody, so I always find it weird when I meet people and they tell me I’m crazy. I mean, what have I done that’s crazy? I just talk a certain way and people make up their own minds."

MOL: I think it’s refreshing to see someone who talks the way I’d talk with my friends. Did you have to turn it up a bit for TV or was it natural?

MM: "Well on platforms like MUNCHIES, VICE or VICELAND, I have to be an entertainer, to perform and be a bit extra and put on a show when I’m doing a cooking video. But when it came to my book, I really just wanted it to be true to who I am. With MUNCHIES videos, we tried to figure out what were those big hits on youtube? What’s ooey-gooey on Instagram and what the algorithms are.

With this book, however, I wanted to get away from all of that and I just wanted to tell my story, so this book is truly who I am. If you were to read this book, and then watch my videos you’d think it was two different people and that’s ok. I don’t think it’s too far away from who I really am when I’m doing a cooking video, but still, when I meet people and they ask me 'why aren’t you yelling?' It’s weird to me. I’m just me and when I’m working, I’m performing, and when I’m at home writing a book about my life, I’m doing just that. I think there are different layers to my existence and even though I show my life very publicly, this is just a look I’ve never had the opportunity to show before."

Marcus O'Laoire and Matty Matheson in Hen's Teeth, Dublin 2.
Marcus O'Laoire and Matty Matheson in Hen's Teeth, Dublin 2.

Watch FOOD&WINE's Quick Bites with Marcus & Matty

MOL: With that being said, and with all the questions on authenticity here, do you have any advice for young chefs?

MM: "Yeah! It’s a big sink or swim industry, which you can’t fake it in. My advice is always to go work where you want to work, bust your ass and go do what you wanna do. Don’t go work in a restaurant that you think you should work at, go cook food you really want to cook and work with chefs you really want to work with. I think the biggest thing in life, no matter what industry you’re in, is to stay true to yourself, which is difficult! Don’t try and please people too much and take care of yourself. Eat well and live well."

MOL: That’s solid advice. On the topic of eating well and living well. Death row meal?

MM: "That one is tough for me. I like such horrible food. I always get caught up with stuff, sometimes I would just love a perfectly cooked chilled lobster, you know? Just a pile of lobster with warm butter and some perfect potatoes or chips, or sometimes I really want some horrible tacos. I think a death row meal is about comfort food. It’s not a giant steak or whatever, I find that kinda stuff kinda boring. Just something warm and comforting. Maybe a soup... a Vietnamese Pho. I would like to be warmed on my death bed. Something that makes me want to take a nap."

MOL: And what are your hopes for the book? What’s the goal?

MM: "I just hope that people take it and get inspired to cook. I don’t give a fuck if you cook something from my book, but if you take my book and it makes you want to cook something then I’m gonna be stoked. People need to learn how to cook for themselves and for each other. People are understanding food more and more. If people like the book because of the stories, cool, if it’s the recipes, cool. I’m just sharing and the feedback is great, but I just want this to be a stepping stone towards people cooking."

MOL: And what’s coming next?

MM: I’m writing another cookbook now. This one is a little more selfish, the recipes are going to be a straight-up collection of my dream home cooking. It’ll be bigger, more recipe heavy. Top to tail, pretty much everything you need to cook at home. I’m trying to make it as simple as possible, but still making it the best I can. Stocks, pastry, breads and everything good. It’s not strictly cheffy, it’s a book of ideas. A book that you can open and just cook a recipe that you see and makes you feel a certain way."

Bringing it back to Ireland

MOL: Is it your first time here?

MM: "Yeah, And in the 30 minutes we’ve been sitting here there’s been sun, torrential rain, hail, lightning, snow and now it’s sunny again. I love Dublin."

MOL: Have you eaten anywhere that you’ve been into in Dublin?

MM: "Yeah we went to Clanbrassil House last night, which was awesome, and Assassination Custard, which blew me away, that was definitely the meal of the day. I think that what they’re doing is extremely special, sincere and genuine. I’ve never been to a restaurant like that, and I think that their style – and I’m not even aware if they know how on point it is – is amazing. There are so many people trying to do that, to show that restraint. It was really inspiring going there and seeing what they’re doing."

MOL: Did you expect to find that kind of thing in Ireland?

MM: "I don't know if I did, maybe not that! Assassination Custard took my breath away. There are literally two tables and they’re open three hours a day. I think that it’s hugely genuine and they’re cooking food that they love, and serving it how they want to serve it and you can’t beat that.

You can find special places like that all around the world and I think that shows that everything is alright. It’s 100% original and genuine and you can not beat that. It was world-class; if that meal was plated on different plates in a fine dining setting… Actually, that doesn’t matter because that would take away from what it was, and it was perfect."

Try the recipe Matty's Baked Rigatoni 

Do you watch Matty's show on Munchies or have you read his book? Let us know in comments below.