Culinary Feature of the Month – Meet the Chef
We are excited to feature the talented people behind the scenes – those who create and prepare the tasty treats that we all get to enjoy in our restaurants. Each month we will be introducing you to the gifted and passionate individuals who make up our culinary team. Bon Appétit!
“From a very young age, I’ve always associated food with togetherness,” Matt says. “Both my mom and dad were really good cooks. My mom experimented a lot in the kitchen, and my dad was always manning the grill. He was also an avid hunter, so we always had some sort of wild game hanging around. When they cooked, the smells spread throughout the house. Although this was a huge influence in my culinary upbringing, I was never as excited about the food as I was about just being together.”
Matt grew up in Prior Lake, Minnesota, and after high school received a degree in culinary arts from Hennepin Technical School. After a few restaurant gigs, his brother encouraged him to apply for work on a cruise ship, and he landed a job at Cruise West in Seattle as a sous chef. For 18 months, he traveled up and down the west coast from Juneau, Alaska to Cabo, Mexico. This is where he met his wife, Tessa. Shortly thereafter, they moved to Chicago, where he was the Executive Chef for Travelers Tavern Hospitality, and opened up two of their three locations. Seeking change, he worked with Rick Tramonto at TRU before moving back west.
Even with his culinary training and years of experience under his belt, it wasn’t until his time at TRU that Matt realized that he wanted this to be his career for life. Training on the risotto-soup station, the sous chef handed Matt a spoonful of lobster and truffle risotto, and said, “This is what this should taste like, every time – no excuses.” Amidst all of the chaos in the kitchen, Matt’s taste buds came to life. “I’d never had anything like that before. From that point on, I knew I wanted to make food like that all of the time. That one dish completely changed who I was as a chef.”
With his move back west, he became head chef at Pour at Four, a wine bar in Tacoma, for three years, and then was recruited to Executive Chef of Sea Grill in Tacoma (formerly owned by El Gaucho Hospitality). From there he was transferred to sous chef at AQUA by El Gaucho, and eventually landed the Executive Chef position at El Gaucho Seattle.
Though Matt has had many professional achievements, his proudest accomplishment, hands down, is being dad to 5-year-old Tallulah and 2-year-old Finnegan. Free time is all about the family, whether that entails swim lessons, gymnastics, hide-and-go-seek, or watching Toy Story 2. Matt also likes to play guitar, the drums, and practices hot yoga and P90x.
Even though Matt cooks up some mean dishes, his favorites include either his mom’s chicken wild rice soup, or his mother-in-law’s smoke duck gumbo. “If either of these were my last meal, I’d die happy,” he exclaims.
One of Matt’s favorite recently read books is Eleven Madison Park’s Cookbook. “Daniel Humm is an amazing chef. This book changed how I look at food and execution,” says Matt. Another winner is Leonardo’s Notebooks, which changed the way Matt looks at everything. “Completely mind-blowing,” he says.
Matt is known for his calm demeanor. “If Gordon Ramsey was ying…I’d be yang,” he says (describing the hot-headed, celebrity British chef of Hell’s Kitchen fame). What he enjoys most about working at El Gaucho is his involvement with talented individuals and amazing ingredients every day. “It is truly world class in all aspects. I also love that one of the foundations of the company is giving back to the community. I love that we have the opportunity go serve lunch every month at the Union Gospel Mission and be a part of their annual Catalyst dinner (fundraising event).”