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San Franciscan, Matthew, has been the Executive Chef at Stacked restaurant in the Ozo hotel complex for a little over two years now. I caught up with him between shifts to get a better insight into his passion for cooking and philosophy on what drives a busy chef.
ST: What initially brought you to Samui?
MR: I had been working in the Bay area of San Francisco at several different restaurants and was looking for a new challenge with an option to travel. I received a call from the owners of Ozo early in 2014 and forty five days later I was here on Samui helping to get this new venture off the ground.
ST: When did you first start cooking professionally?
MR: I graduated from university in 2002 with an undergraduate Bachelors degree with the intent of attending law school. Everything was in place but I decided to follow my heart and enrolled in culinary school at the City College in San Francisco for two years, then started professionally as a chef at the Carnelian restaurant in 2004.
ST: How would you describe your style of food?
MR: I would have to say eclectic, I don’t really stick to one style. The menu at Stacked is very bistro like and this naturally means non fussy simply prepared food with a rustic feel. I am not a huge fan of overly prepared pretentious recipes, good quality ingredients are the key and they should be allowed to speak for themselves. My real interest is in flavour combinations to enhance rather than overwork a recipe. Everything has to have it’s place on the plate, if there is no reason for it leave it out.
ST: What inspires you when it comes to food?
MR: I would have to say that making my guests happy is my prime motivation, it’s something I try to impart to my staff in the kitchen. It is not necessarily difficult to teach them to cook, but they have to care about the food they are producing and there is no greater inspiration than to see our guests smiling and happy whilst dining with us.
ST: What new food ideas have you brought to Stacked?
MR: In fact all the dishes on the menu are my creations, so I concentrate on improving the flavour combinations and using techniques that people find accessible. The Two Time Duck confit is a very popular item on the menu which takes around fourteen hours to prepare and then a week reposing in the fridge to absorb all the flavours that results in one of our top selling signature dishes. I would also like to mention that our burgers are also hugely popular with our guests, we use only prime cuts of beef and our unique blend of seasonings.
ST: Which are your favourite food products to work with?
MR: Actually I like using the offcuts and in particular offal. Beef heart has to be my favourite food in the world, it’s like tenderloin times one hundred. Marinated in red wine, garlic and herbs overnight and simply grilled and sliced. We currently have Wagu beef cheeks on the menu at Stacked that are prepared in a similar fashion, so I guess give me some offcuts of beef or lamb, red wine and some aromatics and I am a happy man.
ST: Do you have a particular dish that you like to cook for family and friends?
MR: Absolutely anything that involves Pasta. I love American cuisine, interestingly since I have been in Thailand I have embraced it even more than when I was in the States. Italian food really is my first love, in particular Pasta Amatriciana, it is basically similar to the topping for Bruschetta with smoked chillies and sautéed under a high heat grill then simply drizzled with olive oil, heavenly.
ST: How do you control the quality of food that goes out to your guests?
MR: I am on the serving Pass all night and will touch and scrutinize every plate that comes out of the kitchen before it is presented to the diners. I will go into the dining room several times during service to check on our guests and guage the feedback. I am very fortunate in having a good and conscientious team behind me that understand the necessity of giving the best of themselves from start to finish which helps enormously.
MR: I would like to let people know more about our cocktails. We are a full sevice restaurant not just a kitchen and our cocktails are amazing. Again, we like to use local flavours to give a sense of authenticity to our bar menu. We produce our own infusions for Rum, Sage Gin, Sweet pepper vodka and obviously all the popular classics enhanced with a twist of Stacked knowhow by our very talented bar staff. We operate two Happy Hour periods, from 5pm until 7pm and then again between 10pm and 11pm which are very well attended.
ST: What has been your funniest kitchen moment?
MR: Most of my funny stories are probably unprintable and involve my time back in the States dealing with line cooks who were a bit worse for wear due to alcohol. Actually, I do have one that is shareable. At a restaurant in Bangkok where I was helping a new manager settle in I got a frantic call from the head chef saying that there was a huge water leak in the second floor kitchen from a PVC pipe. I told him to turn the pipe upwards and place a receptacle underneath and I would call a plumber and be there as soon as possible. Just as I entered the kitchen the chef kicked the pipe in frustration and water cascaded down onto the diners below. Eventually the plumber arrived and I went off to placate our soaked guests. Unbeknown to me the plumber fixed the problem but had wrongly assumed that the upturned pipe was how we normally had it. He had then proceeded to to reconnect the pipe crossing directly in front of the kitchen service door at waist height and then disappeared into the night. For the rest of that night’s service the waiters and bus boys were obliged to either limbo or stride over the offending obstacle. Amazing Thailand!
ST: Chef Matt, thank you so much for your time and I wish you continued success at Stacked.
MR: It was my pleasure, thank you.