Words: Craig Connolly
Photography: George Voronov
Words: Craig Connolly
Photography: George Voronov
There are chefs who are known around the world for their Michelin-star restaurants. There are TV chefs who are famous for making little kids healthy. Some chefs are famous for calling people idiot sandwiches and saying ‘fuck’ a lot. Some make millions, others become memes. But the world has never met a chef like Matty Matheson.
Matty was born in the port city of Saint John on the east coast of Canada, and spent most of his young life in Fort Erie. After a rocky road into adolescence, into teens, into young adulthood, he eventually made food his only vice. After dropping out of a Toronto culinary school in his early 20’s, Matty went on to work in a number of restaurants in the Canadian metropolis, eventually ending up in Parts & Labour as executive chef, a position he held until 2017.
His enigmatic and frantic personality led him to appear on Vice’s show ‘Munchies’, which would serve as something for an audition, as he was later picked up to host Viceland’s ‘It’s Suppertime’ and ‘Dead Set on Life’, both shows changing him from a cult icon to an internet superhero. He’s since ventured to many corners of Youtube’s food halls, including Hot Ones, as well as making several appearances on US late night talk shows.
“Only master chefs ever got to write cookbooks. It was something that was so far away from where I ever thought I would be.”Matty Matheson
Last October he released his first cookbook, ‘Matty Matheson: A Cookbook’. He was a man in demand during his short visit to Dublin, signing hundreds of books and posing for countless photos with fans as the queue snaking through Fade Street got bigger and bigger. We were able to nab some time with him in Hen’s Teeth for an interview and shoot.
What’s that noise? There’s a fuckin’ baby here…
Matty: I wanted to name my kid Fang or Duff. Fistlord? Did someone say they’d name their baby Fistlord? Who has the playlist? I’m not listening to this god damn conscious hip hop shit. Avril Lavigne? We should actually only play Nickelback.
Ok, let’s do this. I’m ready when you are, buddy. Did you always aspire to write a cookbook? I know you mentioned upstairs that your career has been based on riffing, but was there a moment you realised that you wanted to put your memories and stories on paper?
Yeah, but I never thought I was going to be in a position to be able to write a cookbook. Only master chefs ever got to write cookbooks. It was something that was so far away from where I ever thought I would be. I guess I got to a position where I could throw my hat in the ring and see what’s up. Maybe like three years ago, I decided I was going to write a book proposal, shop it around and we went from there.
In the book you mention it’s more about moments with your family, growing up, memories, how important was it to make a book that was personal to you?
It was everything. Obviously it was an easy story to tell, because it’s your own. I just told a genuine, kind of vulnerable, real story about my life through my culinary lens.
Do you feel this is your autobiography, or is that something else you’d like to do?
No, I would write a completely different story. This is through that culinary lens, but there’s definitely a memoir in me.
Any time soon?
No, I’ve got to live a little longer! I feel like I’ve just begun.
“Showing somebody your food is something really honest and vulnerable at the same time.”Matty Matheson
The photography in the book is very different to traditional cookbooks. Was that a conscious decision?
Yeah for sure, I got Pat O’Rourke a skateboarder buddy who takes amazing photos. I wanted him to shoot the tonal landscape photos, and it’s really tough to shoot food so I got this old, which they won’t mind me saying, classic food photographer. So it was this easy thing, there was no bullshit, which I liked. Pat O’Rourke is this amazing kid from Toronto and he took photos in a New York Times best selling book. Which is kind of sick, you know? To put someone on like that. And to make it with him was so fun. Travelling around The Maritimes [the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island] with Pat, showing him where I came from was really cool.
With your career, Rang [Nguyen] was your mentor when you were coming through. Do you have someone that you’re a mentor to now? Do you feel that’s important?
Not right now because I’m solo. It’s just me drifting around. Right now I have two pizzerias, but I’m opening up my dream restaurant, that will be something that I’m looking forward to and maybe someone will think I’m a mentor [from that], but I don’t think it’s my place to say. I’m definitely not mentoring anybody, I’m putting my shit together and trying to figure out life.
How do you balance all of those commitments?
Is it hard to keep standards high in your restaurants when you’re travelling the world?
I have a really good team that I’m building for that restaurant. I want to do a lot of things, I don’t want to just do restaurants. I want to make TV, I want to make internet content, I want to write my own memoir, maybe I make a movie, maybe I start a clothing line, you only have one life and I want to see how much shit I can do and smash and see what the fuck’s up.
“Everyone’s got a fucking story, it’s just some people are better at telling it than others.”Matty Matheson
With Dead Set you travelled a lot. What city or country’s food surprised you the most?
I don’t know where surprised me, but definitely Vietnam is the fucking best. Having the opportunity to go there and have Rang show me around was so amazing, it was beautiful.
You just finished shooting the show Just A Dash. Can you tell me a little about it?
Just A Dash is me. It’s my cooking show, I paid for it, there’s no direction so I guess I directed it. I did everything. It was cool, I got to get my buddies back together, my OG crew, we shot it in my house, and I think this will be the best cooking show I’ve ever done. It’s how I like to perform, how I like to cook, how I like to present myself.
Is wanting to have that control something you found out about yourself, that you needed?
I don’t think it’s about control, I just don’t need it. I don’t need somebody to tell me how to cook. I don’t need somebody to tell me how to be funny. I just kind of figured it out, I figured what I’m really good at and what my lane is. I’m just trying to make my lane as strong as I can and live within those lines, as blurred as those lines are. I’m just trying to be more me. I just want to make the funniest, best cooking show I can. My goal is to make a very funny, real cooking show.
On projects like Dead Set is the most rewarding aspect of it that you get to sit down and break bread with people in their homes?
It’s always about the people, man. It’s about the people, where they’re coming from, what they’re doing, where they’re at, that kind of shit is really important. Everyone’s got a fucking story, it’s just some people are better at telling it than others. Sometimes you have to pull it out of people, dig a little deeper.
Do people let their guard down more because they’re cooking with you?
Yeah, I think it’s when people are doing something that they’re comfortable with, when they’re showing you something that they really enjoy. They’re excited, they’re cooking for you, they’re comfortable, cooking in your home is a really nice thing, so it’s a great opportunity to be yourself. Showing somebody your food is something really honest and vulnerable at the same time.
One thing that really stood out to me when watching the show was when you visited Nunavut and you were discussing the banning of seal hunts. The idea of responsible hunting also comes up on the show, was that something you were always aware of?
It’s something that’s real. I didn’t grow up hunting, but it’s something that I learned through cooking. If you’re a chef and you’ve never slaughtered an animal yourself I think you’re being naive. I don’t think you need to be out there slaughtering animals every day, or working for a year in a slaughterhouse, but I think you need to understand what it means to take a life. You need to understand what that holds.
Shooting a bird is different to taking the life of a sheep, that’s pretty fucking heavy. That shit resonated with me and made things very clear, it made me realise not to fuck around. It’s really important that people know where food comes from.
Do you think people responded so well to those aspects of Dead Set because you were sort of learning on the spot?
For sure, I’m in the same position as everybody watching. I know how to cook, but I don’t know every single thing about food. I’m just trying to figure it out too, and maybe that’s part of the reason why things are going so well.
Last question, because there’s a queue of people outside Hen’s Teeth right now waiting to see you. What was the best food you had while you were in Dublin?
The best food was Assassination Custard. It’s so rare that you have a restaurant that is so genuine. So simple, so brilliant, so delicious. I don’t think they’re even aware of what they have… They must be in some sense, but it’s such a great place. It’s rare to have places like that anywhere, so I was really stoked to be able to experience that.