Table Talk with Matty
By James Mullinger
Photographs by Denis Duquette
James Mullinger meets Matty Matheson
Born in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1982, Matty Matheson has become the most powerful and beloved culinary voice in Canada. His videos for Viceland’s Munchies have notched up tens of millions of views on YouTube and turned him into an international star.
It’s early evening on a bitterly cold, snowy December evening in uptown Saint John. [EDIT]’s unstoppable art director, Lindsay Vautour, and I are preparing for the cover shoot with Saint John’s most famous son since Donald Sutherland. Photographer Denis Duquette is setting up his shots while assistants angle lighting rigs and check camera batteries. We know that our subject is nearby because social media posts are appearing every 30 seconds of him posing with fans on the surrounding streets. As it transpires, he is in fact right now next door to our shoot location (Tuck Interiors on Grannan Lane) enjoying a coffee at Rogue Coffee with his manager Matthew and old buddy Jesse Vergen from the Saint John Ale House.
Matty Matheson is in the middle of a gruelling book tour and weeks away from starting construction on his new restaurant. He has been on the road for three weeks straight. And even though his videos for Viceland’s Munchies had already made him an international star, this book tour (with appearances on American network chat shows including Jimmy Kimmel Live) has made him a household name. Born at the Saint John General Hospital in 1982, he moved to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, with his family when he was three, and lived there until he was nine. He spent his tenth year in St. Thomas, Ontario, and then moved to Fort Erie when he was 11. In 2000, he moved to Toronto, where he studied cooking at Humber College. From there he landed jobs at Le Sélect Bistro and La Palette. In 2010 he signed on as executive chef at Parts & Labour, where he became a local celebrity due to his unique dishes and warm personality. Working and partying around the clock, his rampant cocaine use led to a heart attack at the age of 29. Viceland approached him to front some online videos, and the rest, as they say, is history.
HIs videos continue to be some of the most watched films on YouTube, his cookbook is at the top of the bestseller charts, and this summer his own restaurant will open in Toronto. Details are securely under wraps, but we can reveal that [EDIT] cover star Omar Gandhi (volume 2) is the architect behind the project.
“I got a message on Instagram from Matty a few years ago,” Gandhi remembers. “He was certainly a fan of our work but more so a fan of the fact that we worked in the East and produced distinctly Canadian work. It was certainly a nod to his Maritime roots. We talked about the project for a year before we started to actually design it, and in the process became great friends. To the public he’s a loud, crazy and funny guy, but in the time I’ve known him I’ve found him to be really generous, supportive and kind. Generally quite soft-spoken, believe it or not. He goes far out of his way to help a friend without hesitation. He’s also very respectful of talent. He knows what he’s good at and surrounds himself with talented people.
“Matty spends a lot of time lying on our couch in the Toronto studio just hiding from the pandemonium. It’s weird to have Matty Matheson on the couch napping when you are having a serious meeting with another client. My favourite time with Matty was going to a fancy stone-and-tile store in Toronto, and not a single person knew who he was. Everyone was staring at his clothes and tattoos. We quickly left and went next door to eat lunch at Wendy’s. He was mobbed with people wanting photos and autographs. Insane contrast. I had to order his lunch for him. The project is going to be really special. We are really proud of the work and the collaboration. We understood from the outset the importance of the project to Matty, and we dug deep to produce something special.”
Sure enough, when Matty arrives at the shoot, he is charm personified, disarmingly unguarded and totally at easy with his new-found fame and success. As he tells me in the interview you are about to read, "I will always be me." And that’s a business model that works.
Because he is a really great human being. A culinary genius, yes. But a legitimately warm person. And most importantly, he is a loving husband and father. He is also proof that hard work is everything. In 20 years of journalism I have been lucky enough to interview hundreds of icons, superstars, musicians, and politicians. But few are as utterly charming, brilliant and hilarious as Matty Matheson. And, let’s be honest, at just 36 years of age, the best is probably yet to come…
[EDIT]: How is everything going with a new restaurant?
Matty Matheson: Good! We take possession in the next two weeks. The base building is all done. We are sorting through some legal stuff with the lease. Within two weeks we will have possession of the new building, and we will build out from there with Omar Gandhi.
[EDIT]: Obviously you have a ton of experience with other restaurants, but does this one feel like your baby?
Matty: Yes! I get to touch everything. This one is different because I get to nourish it and create and execute everything. This is my Frankenstein. I am building what I believe would be my favourite restaurant.
[EDIT]: How have you achieved this global success without compromising who you are?
Matty: I have always just been… me. I have never strayed one way or the other way, and I think that with the restaurants, Oddfellows, Parts & Labour, we’ve always done it our way. I think what I learned from Brian Richer at Oddfellows is to just be yourself. I think he has been a really big part of why I am who I am. Why I think the way that I do. I come from good parents who understand who they are. Proper Maritimers, so they are kind of psychopaths. My dad has always been an entrepreneur. Which is why we always moved around a lot, which is what really inspired me. Because of them I am attracted to people who are themselves. They aren’t superstars, but I see success in them. I gravitate towards that, and I think that I am a person for whom it is easy just to be me. Even my cheeseburger video, which set everything off, was just me in my apartment making a cheeseburger! I was able to be myself in front of the camera.
With Vice, I have always been able to be myself. Whenever I asked for critical suggestions from my executive producers, they’d say, “Keep doing what you’re doing!” I actually got frustrated! I was always like, “Where can I get better? How can I improve this?” And they’d say, “You are getting better. Just keep doing what you are doing.” I built myself up, and I got to a certain point with the restaurants by being myself, cooking the food that I like to cook and eat, and participating in opening up restaurants that were, I think, extremely original. They definitely weren’t for everybody, which I love. I hate the middle-of-the-road bulls***.
I got to the point where I accepted that my YouTube content and TV content — that my brand was me. I don’t even have PR (public relations support). Even when I go to f***ing Jimmy Kimmel Live, it’s me and my manager. I don’t have a publicist or PR. I just walk in. When I did that entire book thing, it was me and Matt, my manager. It was just me and my dude. And most of the time it was just me. When I show up to places, a lot of times people ask, “Who is your handler?” And I respond, “Me. I need a glass of water, and I am here.” I think it is easy to be me because I don’t cloud things up with publicists or an entourage or a lot of people around me. Because of this I will always be me. As soon as I put barriers up, I think that’s when I would separate myself from myself.
[EDIT]: No one can try and sabotage your career by exposing anything when you are just being yourself and being honest.
Matty: Yes. I have already aired all of my dirty laundry. I got clean over five years ago, and I have told my story. I used to drink, I used to do drugs — name the drug, I did it! But that is all so boring to me now. I never hurt anybody. Perfect! I don’t have any skeletons in my closet other than being this psychopathic party boy! Once again, I am just being me, and I am just being myself, and I will continue to only be myself. Now I am in a position where I can say, “F*** you. I am only being myself!”
[EDIT]: The cheeseburger video you mention has over eight million views and, as you say, it’s just you in your apartment.
Matty: I still love it. Even doing that cheeseburger video was the biggest thing I had ever done in my life I got paid $500 to do it and at that time it was the most money I’d ever made in my life! I still pride myself on just being myself. I don’t take anything for granted. I don’t think anybody thought it would do what it has done. It took off quickly. It got some traction right away, but you know eight million views is crazy. That video came out almost four years ago. It’s like what you said: it just grows and grows and grows, and I am just happy about it. I am happy that I haven’t blown up or had that overnight success. I am really happy that I can just work my way into whatever I am working towards. Just keep plugging along. I am just happy to be playing the game.
[EDIT]: That’s the beauty of it. You have built this fan base in different areas. People who frequented your restaurants on a regular basis fell in love with you that way. Other people discovered you online or on TV. Has it meant something different to suddenly have a physical cookbook out, and has it created a new fan base?
Matty: It is completely different. Because it is tangible. This is the first time that someone gets to hold something of mine. I have done T-shirts and some other s***, but this is the first time I’ve really made something. Think about when you made that magazine. It is something that you have; it is such an amazing thing. Like most people, I love buying magazines! I still buy them all the time. I have so many books. I especially love to buy books when I am travelling.
Having my own book has been so different. Much closer to having a restaurant than a TV show. With the cookbook, it’s so much work! I wrote it myself. I shot with the photographer, who is a skater-kid photographer. It was just me, Pat O’Rourke and my manager, Matt. We just drove across the Maritimes. A small crew did all the food: me, Alex Goodall and Michelle Rabin. We made all the food for the book in five days. That’s crazy, right? We shot an entire cookbook in five days! I would love to meet somebody else who has done that. The book is definitely closer to the feeling of opening a restaurant. You put in all this work, you don’t know if people are going to like it or not, and then it comes out. There are so many books to buy, so many magazines to buy, so many restaurants to eat at. Every time somebody comes in, I think, “That is so nice!” For somebody to take their time to spend their money on me is very humbling. I truly appreciate it.
[EDIT]: What was it like being back in Saint John? Obviously, you were very young when you left. What was it like looking at the Reversing Falls? That photograph is magical.
Matty: My grandparents lived in Rothesay, and my aunt and uncle lived in Fredericton. We visited all the time. Saint John has that rugged image that it is a fighting city. This time we did two days in Prince Edward Island, two days in Saint John and two days in Nova Scotia, where we travelled the landscape. We did everything on film. We took 3000 photos on film in six days. I still have every photo on a hard drive. It’s crazy. All of our photos in Saint John, the harbour and stuff — I love all of that. We used to always love looking at the Reversing Falls. We used to go as kids all the time. We would go to the lookout, and we would just watch. We could never afford to go on the boat ride or anything like that, but we would go and look at it. It was very nostalgic for me. I don’t really remember these places, but when I go back I have this warm feeling. It’s weird because it’s a beautiful thing, but it’s f***ing rugged.
[EDIT]: What does it feel like when you see these huge lineups at Chapters Indigo?
Matty: It’s just so funny to me. When I did that tour, I would walk in, people would cheer or scream or freak out, and I would say, “It’s okay, I am just here. It’s me.” But the demographic, the thing that I’ve kind of figured out, is that I make people laugh, I am real, and I teach people how to actually cook. Those are winning combinations of being cool. If you make somebody laugh, they are going to like you. If you give them something to eat, they are going to love you. If you are a genuine person, then you are cool. Sometimes people’s grandmothers would come, and they would say, “I saw you on this TV show, and you love saying f***!” So, there is this elderly woman who loves you because you giggle and swear. And I am like, “You actually watch me on TV?” And then you have kids who are really small, and they say they love to watch my pancake videos because I swear. Everyone is always telling me that I am crazy! I don’t think I have ever done anything actually crazy on television. I may talk the way that I talk, but I talk the way everyone does. I just do it on camera. I haven’t actually done anything crazy. I am just eating at a restaurant like everyone does. I’m just going to say something is f***ing gross if it is. The world is so f***ing vanilla that I have been able to break down that barrier by just saying f*** or s*** or just cursing. I have grandparents who love me! I mean, how cool is that?
[EDIT]: The greatest thing I saw at your signings was these lineups of teenagers and hipsters up to grandparents. All buying a cookbook.
Matty: Yes! It’s true. People are saying, “This is my first book,” let alone their first cookbook. I’m trying to give you the basics in this book. I’m trying to show you how to cook or sear something, how to cook a broth or soup. I want people to know how to cook normal, basic food. I’m trying to be one step above training wheels with cooking. People just need to cook normal s***. With the book it literally goes from home cooking to Italian-American to my type of food, which is white-guy food. From my foundation to my expertise in cooking, you can go from a person who doesn’t know how to cook anything to being able to cook French food or other high-quality food. Some of the best chefs in the world have bought my cookbook. Food editors are buying it; grandmothers are buying it, children, students, boyfriends, girlfriends, everyone! I just told my story to a lot of people who identify with it. There is nothing better than identifying with another human. That is unparalleled. I gave them the easiest thing that I could give, which is my story. That demographic is just… human. Anyone can relate to growing up being made fun of for having homemade bread. It’s the same thing as having ethnic food. It’s like the people that show up to lunch with curry instead of a bologna sandwich. People can identify with that or with moving around and growing up the way that I did. You know I grew up just a working-class or middle-class Canadian kid. I am not perfect. My story is not perfect, and I think that really resonates with people. They really understand that.
[EDIT]: Do you have plans for the second book? You have a lot of stories to tell. Will the second book have much autobiographical stuff in it, or will it have more recipes?
Matty: I still feel that this book is selfish for me. For the next book, I’m going to make the biggest home-cooking book that I can. The book will be about going on an adventure. I’m going to cook a ton of fish, soup, vegetables, and once again it’s going to be a foundational book, but it will incorporate as many ideas as I can. How many different ways can I cook lamb? How many different cuts are there? How many different ways can I cook chicken, poultry, wild game, beef? All this stuff is so endless. So, what I’m going to try to do is create this whole cookbook around that concept. It will allow people to work from the basics and be able to paint their own pictures.
[EDIT]: Does this feel like the busiest time of your life? Restaurant, book, TV — do you ever feel overwhelmed?
Matty: It’s overwhelming at times, but this is the work. This year, I am going to be shooting my own YouTube video series. I will be producing and doing everything myself. I am hoping to be shooting a major network-TV show, perhaps writing a new cookbook, watching over my clothing line, opening a restaurant. There are major things happening in 2019. Every day I have to work a little bit. And that’s what I’m trying to do. Work a little bit every day. Like everyone.
[EDIT]: One of the things that I and many people love about your recipes is that they are perfect family-celebration dishes. How important is it for you? Obviously growing up you ate together as a family, and now you have your own family. Do you try whenever you are home to eat together at the dining-room table?
Matty: One-hundred percent. We sit at the dining-room table and eat together every night. We pause everything, and we eat dinner together. It’s tougher to keep Mac at the table. He’s nearly three years old. He just runs around like a crazy person, and he eats whatever he wants to eat. He doesn’t need to eat everything that I make. Last night we made a spinach spaghetti with some hot peppers, kale, sausage, chicken stock. I just made Mac some spaghetti with butter sauce and a chicken stock. We will give him some kale out of our pasta, and if he doesn’t want it, I don’t care. He’s a kid. He’s going to eat hot dogs, chicken fingers. He loves cheeseburgers, and I make him homemade cheeseburgers now. We have fresh ground beef, a nice brioche bun and some cheese and pickles.
[EDIT]: What are your favourite dishes for spring?
Matty: A lot of stuff from PEI. I think for spring you are going to want to eat later so grilled meats, lighter stuff. You are not going to want to make pot roasts or anything like that. The baked sausages and potatoes are really good. My mother-in-law’s T-bone steaks. You could just make tacos. Whatever you do, go for something big, ha ha ha!
And with the unmistakably Matty laugh that has endeared him to millions of people all over the world, he packs up his suitcase, declines an offer for a car to his hotel and disappears in to the night, presumably seconds away from being stopped by a fan for another selfie. Despite a 5am start the following day, he will undoubtedly chat with the fans for as long as they wish. Because at the end of the day, that’s just who Matty Matheson is, whether he is on TV in front of millions or one-on-one outside Picaroons on Canterbury Street in Saint John. He is always just himself. And we love him for it.
Matty Matheson: A Cookbook
is published by Abrams Books
Follow Matty on Instagram: @mattymatheson
This story originally appeared in [EDIT] magazine. To subscribe, please click here.