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Matty Matheson goes back to his French foundation and Maritime roots to deliver a tender debut cookbook

"I'm not just some cool dude who is a tattooed chef who did a lot of cocaine," says Matty Matheson. "There's a lot more to everyone than what is perceived."Aaron Wynia/Quentin Bacon
"I'm not just some cool dude who is a tattooed chef who did a lot of cocaine," says Matty Matheson. "There's a lot more to everyone than what is perceived."Aaron Wynia/Quentin Bacon

Our cookbook of the week is "Matty Matheson: A Cookbook" by the Toronto-based chef and Viceland star. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Grilled beef tongue, hot turkey sandwich and venison tartare with warm bone marrow drippings.

The final recipe in chef Matty Matheson’s striking debut cookbook bears a photo of his tattooed fist — knuckles inked with RAFF (on his other hand, RIFF) — driving a cheeseburger flush against the plate. If it weren’t for the sesame seed-studded bun, the burger would be unrecognizable; a splatter painting of pickle mayo and bacon-onion jam.

It’s a fitting end to a beautiful book — personal, generous and open — filled with the comforting Acadian fare of Matheson’s childhood, homey Italian-Canadian cuisine of his in-laws and French bistro classics from his early days in Toronto restaurant kitchens. Following some of his favourite dishes, and the stories behind them, the P&L (a reference to Matheson’s now shuttered restaurant, Parts & Labour) Burger evokes “mixed emotions.”

After winning a competition TV show, the cheeseburger became Matheson’s calling card. As someone who had “busted (his) ass” at some of the best French restaurants in the country, he writes, “there was something that ate away at my soul every time it left the kitchen.” Now, as a Viceland star, he’s become synonymous with “Munchies-type food” — e.g. his “guaranteed to get you laid” lasagna — but as he proves in Matty Matheson: A Cookbook (Abrams Books, 2018), he runs much deeper than his culinary claims to fame.

Matheson takes a decidedly different tack in the book, one that he admits he was initially hesitant to reveal. The uninitiated may anticipate bravado in its pages. Instead, Matheson expresses honesty and tenderness, whether recounting the pleasure of eating lobster caught off the Northumberland Strait, his mom’s “cheesy things” made with her freshly baked bread (which, in turn, she made with freshly milled flour) or how, at 29, “after a three-day bender of no sleep, drinkin’ and druggin’,” he suffered a heart attack that ultimately led him to go into recovery.

“I’m not just some cool dude who is a tattooed chef who did a lot of cocaine. There’s a lot more to everyone than what is perceived. And I think that’s scary,” says Matheson. “(I was afraid) that maybe people wouldn’t like this softer Matt. It would have been really easy for me to give them the loud ‘F–k you, f–k this. Here’s all this ooey-gooey food.'” On television, Matheson is larger-than-life, boisterous and affable. In his latest series, It’s Suppertime, he demonstrates the “meatballs you wish your grandma made,” deadpanning while smacking a mound of ground meat: “That’s how you know when your meatballs are done. It should sound like you’re slapping a butt.”

There’s unreserved joy and lightness in his cookbook, too, albeit of another kind. Matheson delights in a perfectly cooked beef tongue, which “is better than pot roast” when treated properly, and expresses pure nostalgia for a beloved hot turkey sandwich his grandfather once made at the Blue Goose Restaurant in DeSable, P.E.I.

“People don’t know what I am, unfortunately. They don’t get that. And I think this book is the first step in showing I’m not the guy in the bathtub eating macaroni and cheese. That’s a bit. I’m an entertainer,” says Matheson. “It all just comes down to my true love of food and my family and my life.”

By Laura Brehaut

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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