This is Part 1 of a three-part chef chat series. Parts 2 and 3 will run in this same space on Thursday and Friday.
The Eatsie Boys have one of the most popular food trucks in Houston right now. Known for their pork snuggies, fanciful ice cream flavors dubbed "frozen awesome" and toque-wearing Pac-Man-with-stick-legs logo, they've amassed a following of 5,800-plus fans on Twitter since opening for business: Their food is damn good. This is not just your typical food truck -- it's a gourmet one, complete with a young chef-partner whose résumé comes complete with Michelin-starred experiences and a year-long stint at one of the world's finest restaurants. Let's get to know Matt Marcus a little better.
EOW: I know that you went to culinary school and worked as a chef in a fancy restaurant, but don't know the details. Tell me about the beginning of it all.
MM: I went to military high school in Harlingen, Texas, and people were selling cigarettes and stuff to make money at school, and I wanted to do something that wasn't illegal, so I bought a George Foreman grill and a flat top and made my own little restaurant inside of my dorm room. And people would come from all over school to eat my food.
EOW: What would you make?
MM: Oh, it was very typical things like quesadillas and hamburgers. So when I came home for the summer, my parents told me that I needed to get a job for the summer. I was into cooking, and I knew that I wanted to go to culinary school. And I was lucky because my mom ate at Brennan's all the time, so she approached Randy Evans and told him, "Hey, my son is interested in getting a job and wants to work in the culinary world." So when I was 17, I got my first job at the pastry station with Randy Evans and Chris Shepherd, who were sous chefs at the time.
EOW: Very cool.
MM: So I did that for two summers, then I decided to go to culinary school. I wanted to go to the best school, the CIA in Hyde Park, New York, so I went there and got my bachelor's degree.
EOW: I didn't realize the CIA had a bachelor's program.
MM: It's a hospitality and management degree, just like the one at U of H, but it's strongly based on culinary arts. Imagine if every general manager knew how to cook as well. It's sort of based on that kind of knowledge. I did the four-year degree there. During the four-year degree, you have a chance to go to Northern California for a month as part of the bachelor's program trip, and you go there and get submerged in the culture of wine and the farm-and-table movement.
EOW: I take it that was your first time in California?
MM: Yes. So I visited the campus in St. Helena, and I was like, "Holy moly! I want to move out here!" And I'd always been interested in pastry, so I moved to St. Helena and did the nine-month pastry program at the St. Helena campus. And while I was there, I was also a private chef for a bed and breakfast. It was the best job I ever had. It was just amazing driving up to work every morning through the vines and vineyards, and just cooking for ten people a day at this secret B&B in Yountville.
EOW: Being in Napa, did that shape how you approach food?
MM: I don't think so. I was a year and a half in Napa, but I was also interested in going overseas. I'm always interested in reading cookbooks and getting my hands on whatever. I want to know what people are doing in the culinary world. If you're not constantly changing yourself and molding yourself to what people want to eat, you'll become stagnant. So after Napa, I went abroad and spent a year at the Fat Duck in London.
EOW: Oh, wow! I don't think anybody knows that. Wow!
MM: So I spent a year at The Fat Duck. I wasn't working in their actual kitchen; I was part of their R&D team, and that's where I sort of got a lot of my knowledge on my really modern, forward-thinking techniques, and brainstorm with your dish, and how to put dishes together. And then I was helping with their BBC show, and I helped with their cookbooks. If you look on the back of The Fat Duck Perfection series books, my name is back there.
EOW: That's so cool! So back up, you have to tell me more about this Fat Duck R&D gig. How did you land it?
MM: I was in Napa, and I said, "Okay, I want to go abroad and I want to work for the best." I didn't know any Spanish, so I didn't want to go to El Bulli, and I thought if I wanted to learn something very well, the best course for me would be to go somewhere they spoke English, and that was The Fat Duck. At the time The Fat Duck was No. 2 in the world.
EOW: And what year was this?
MM: This was 2007. So I went to their Web site, and they had a stage, an internship, open for their research and development kitchen. I sent my résumé in. I had to do it three times; I really wanted the job. After the third time, they finally contacted me and said, "We need to conduct four sets of phone interviews with you." And they were in London, and I was in Napa, which is an eight-hour time difference, so I would stay up until three in the morning to talk to Heston Blumenthal on the phone.
EOW: And what do you think clinched it?
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MM: A couple of things. I had great references. And I remember them saying that they could really tell how enthusiastic and passionate I was. And they always like to have a couple of American stages in the research kitchen, for some reason. So I applied for a visa, I got my visa and a month later, there I am in London, England. There I am cooking in London, in one of the best restaurants in the world.
Check back with us tomorrow as we continue our conversation with Matt Marcus.