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Matty Matheson has a new gig: 'I think vegetables are way cooler than meat right now'


Our cookbook of the week is Matty Matheson: Home Style Cookery by Matty Matheson. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Waldorf sweet potato salad , focaccia , and fried mortadella with American cheese sauce and savory focaccia .

A cross between wild cabbage and turnip, the rutabaga lies at the heart of one of Matty Matheson’s favourite recipes in his new cookbook. A chef known for his ways with meat, this may come as a bit of a surprise. But in Home Style Cookery (Abrams, 2020), Matheson’s creative treatment of vegetables steals the spotlight.

Just as you might make fish fumet, and beef, chicken, lamb or pork stock (all of which are also in the book), Matheson is fond of making broths using individual vegetables like celeriac or rutabaga. An isolated expression of concentrated flavour, he thinks of it as an infusion — like a vegetable tea worthy of bone-broth-level mainstream appeal.

“You can simmer anything and with enough salt, it will taste good,” says Matheson, laughing. “One of my favourite things is the rutabaga nage. Just a simple, single-vegetable stock. A very light, warming broth.” Requiring nothing more than a couple kilograms of the root vegetable, onions, salt and water, it’s as soul-satisfying as it is straightforward.

“All of a sudden, a couple hours later you have a beautiful little broth. It’s a matter of understanding the fundamentals,” he adds. “Nothing is waste until it’s completely dead or mouldy or completely rotten. There are so many things you can do: you can pickle it, you can ferment it, you can make a stock out of it, you could make a soup out of it, you could make a purée out of it. You could do so many different things with vegetables.”

While there are plenty of meat and seafood dishes in Home Style Cookery — sandwiches (fried mortadella with American cheese sauce and savory focaccia), fried foods and cast-iron cookery (pork shoulder schnitzel), roasts (crispiest pork belly), smoked (Texas-style prime rib) and grilled (whole sea bass and fennel mash) — Matheson devotes the longest chapter in the book to vegetables.

Amounting to roughly 30 of the book’s 135 recipes, the decision wasn’t a conscious one, he says — vegetable-heavy ideas simply kept flowing. Carrot and black radish sauerkrauts, yuzu cucumbers and other pickles and preserves accompany the likes of Waldorf sweet potato salad, butter-basted cabbage with sunflower seed sabayon, and aligot potatoes (a.k.a. cheesy stringy potatoes). When he incorporates meat or seafood in some of these dishes, Matheson emphasizes, it’s always in support of the vegetables.

A couple of years ago, Matheson, his wife Trish and their two young children moved from Toronto, where he’d lived since 2000, to a farm in his hometown of Fort Erie, Ont. (Photographer Quentin Bacon captured this bucolic setting in images for the book.) He planted a vegetable garden in May, which has only encouraged him further. “I think vegetables are extremely important, and especially now that I have our vegetable garden,” he says. “The last couple months have completely flipped me on my head. I think vegetables are way cooler than meat right now, that’s for sure.”

His first book, Matty Matheson: A Cookbook (Abrams, 2019), was decidedly meat-forward. A nod to his French foundation — at culinary school and then at restaurants — and Maritimes roots, it was also a tribute to his grandparents, parents and in-laws. Whereas it told the story of how he found his footing in food, Matheson says, he sees Home Style Cookery as inviting readers to find their own.

With an emphasis on recipes from his restaurant days, such as grilled beef tongue , and venison tartare with warm bone marrow drippings , Matheson wasn’t as concerned with cookability when writing his first book. In contrast, he focuses on building blocks in Home Style Cookery — breads, stocks, pickles and preserves — and techniques such as roasting, grilling and preserving (e.g., curing, smoking, pickling).

These skills are timeless, but they’re also timely. Matheson’s enthusiasm makes them enticing, and with many people cooking more than ever at home, they’re especially useful. “One of the biggest silver linings of the pandemic is it’s shown people the amount of work that goes into cooking,” he says. “My biggest thing that I’ve come into over the years is that I want people to build self-esteem through cooking, and confidence. Because it’s one of those things where legitimately, you’re nourishing each other. You’re spending time with each other — or yourself, and you can make yourself feel really good.”

Making just one component of a meal from scratch “is such a triumph,” he adds. Like any craft, cooking takes practice to do well. In Home Style Cookery , he set out to share some of what he’s learned along the way. There’s always room for improvement, Matheson says, and as with anything outside your comfort zone, you feel a great sense of accomplishment when you actually do it. “Cooking isn’t easy. The way your stove reacts. They way you react. The way your ingredients react. There are so many variables,” he says. “Take it at your own speed, and share. I’m a big advocate of, ‘You can’t keep what you have unless you give it away.’ So I think sharing ideas, sharing recipes is one of the most beautiful things ever.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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