This is part two of my interview with Matt Taylor, executive chef at Market Street Kitchen. If you missed part one, where Taylor dished about Brad Thompson, Robert McGrath and what he likes and dislikes about the Southern Cooking trend, read it here.
Five words to describe you: Passionate, demanding, indecisive, goofy, loving.
Five words to describe Market Street Kitchen: Rustic, urban, heartfelt, genuine, comfort.
Favorite cookbook: Real Cajun by Donald Link or White Heat by Marco Pierre White. Real Cajun because it continues to be my reference guide and inspiration when it comes to rustic/real Cajun cooking. White Heat because it lights the fire under my ass every time I doubt myself or second guess ever cooking for a living. Kind of like an athlete watching his or her most inspiring game, match, or race when their confidence feels a little less than optimum.
Favorite kitchen toy: Spoons. I'll always love my spoons and like collecting them wherever I go. My "gumbo" spoon that is burnt and beaten all to hell will stay with me to my grave or get passed down.
Best food memory: I have been fortunate to have many; but about four years ago, I was back home for the first time in a very long time. Back home always refers to the farm our family has lived on in Northern Alberta for generations. I was helping my Granny harvest her garden . . . We were pulling out beets (her specialty), carrots, cucumber blossoms, rhubarb, and much more. The whole time I was trying to convince her that she could sell these amazing products to restaurants in nearby Calgary and Edmonton if we got our act together. Nonetheless, it would be last time we ever were together on the farm, and the last time we cooked together. Somehow I think we both knew it would be. I can still taste all that wonderful produce as if it were in front of me right now. I love you, Granny.
National restaurant that has blown you away in the last year: Araxi in Whistler, British Columbia was pretty darn awesome this past summer. Great local seafood which is obviously in abundance, as well some great game meat, and local/wild vegetables. Top-notch service in a beautiful setting. Flour and Water in San Francisco is now one of my favorite restaurants. I have had some amazing pasta there.
National chef you admire: [Louisiana chef, restaurateur and cookbook writer] Donald Link. I still would like to work for him one day. I have never been so inspired by someone I have never met.
What did you take away from your experience with John Besh?: The simple fact of how passionate/knowledgeable he and his staff are about the cuisine, culture, and history of New Orleans and then work that into the cuisine.
What did you learn from working in Las Vegas?:Assuming you are talking about restaurants, it would be how to execute cuisine at high standards while accomplishing a large volume of covers in a short period of time. Also, working with Michael Mina Group, and seeing how much you can accomplish when you surround yourself with amazing people. His restaurant empire is extremely impressive, and all the dining experiences are exceptional.
Best Southern restaurants in the U.S?: I am going to have to go Cochon. Although it is definitely Cajun, and not typical Southern. Of course, Sean Brock's Husk is an amazing restaurant and very important. I also love Empire State South. See what I mean by indecisive?
Name two other great Southern cooks and why you admire them?: Hugh Acheson and Sean Brock. Mr. Acheson because he is a Canadian-born boy who is now turning heads with his Southern cooking -- in the South, no less. Sean Brock, because we met years before he was "Sean Brock" in Nashville. He was an awesome, humble gentleman then. I doubt he has changed one bit.
Name three things that typify Southern cooking: Probably the same three things that could be said of any cuisine: passion, a respect for the past, and humbleness with ingredients.
Is goat head cheese a tough sell in North Scottsdale?: Haha, everything is a tough sell in North Scottsdale -- except green chili pork. You can sell that stuff anywhere, apparently.
What would you put on the menu if you thought people would eat it?: Probably a lot of the same things any chef would in this town: more offal, more head this, guts that. And gumbo with potato salad. People have a hard time with that one here.
You grew up Canadian. How did you come to be a Southern cook?: First off, I wouldn't pigeonhole myself as a "Southern" cook. I am a cook who has had a little love affair with the South. But, that being said, when I returned from my stint in Louisiana, I realized how much I missed the cooking that I would eat on my days off. In turn, I became a fanatic trying to re-create all those great meals I had eaten. Meals that made me very comforted in what was not the easiest of times for me. Needless to say, the love affair continues.
You have put some Asian accents on your Southern-inflected menu at MSK. How and why do those two cuisines work together?: I have always enjoyed dabbling with Asian flavors. It is probably what I eat the most of outside of work. Many late-night meals at Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean haunts have inspired menu items. Honestly, as long as it is done thoughtfully, the flavors and ingredients complement one another beautifully.
Why do you think you have such an affinity for Southern cooking?: To me, it's the most recognizable regional cuisine that exists in the United States. When we're talking fried steak, gumbo, shrimp and grits, you know exactly what part of the country we are talking about.
Is it a fad that will go away -- like Southwest cuisine?: I sure hope not; and I don't think Southwest cuisine is dead. It just needs to revived, refreshed, and modernized. There is so much more to it.
What do you know now about cooking that you didn't 10 years ago?: I know how to run a kitchen, budget food cost, labor, and manage to an extent otherwise I'm still learning how to cook, and be better at all facets of the business. Cooking is so much more than applying heat to food. Maybe that's what I didn't know . . .
Pet peeve when dining in a restaurant: Cold butter and servers that say "I have" . . . Example: "I have a beautiful sea bass for you tonight, and I have an amazing Chardonnay to go with it"...Correction: You don't have shit. It's the restaurant's, which then becomes the customer's after they order it.
Pet peeve in the kitchen: Whistling and cell phones. I cannot tolerate either.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: Packaged ramen.
Favorite thing to eat now: Pho, and good ramen. Not so many packages nowadays, although I would be a hypocrite if I didn't acknowledge the few packs in our cupboard at home for "emergencies."
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Last meal on Earth: On the beach in Rocky Point with friends and loved ones shucking oysters, and eating salumi and cheese until dawn. Lots of beers, bourbon, mai tais, and music to go along with it.
When you die, what should be written on your headstone?: If you stay ready, you don't have to get ready. He was ready.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Helen Yung of Sweet Republic Jacques Qualin of J&G Steakhouse Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Claudio Urciuoli of Noca Matt Pool of Matt's Big Breakfast Jared Porter of The Parlor Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles Chris Bianco, Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco, Pane Bianco and Trattoria Bianco Ehren Litzenberger, BLD