This is Part 2 of a three-part chef chat series. Read Part 1 here and Part 3 in this same space on Friday.
Yesterday we chatted with Matt Marcus of the Eatsie Boys about everything from selling burgers in his military school dorm room to culinary school and the four phone interviews he had to pass before making it as an intern at The Fat Duck in London, one of the world's best restaurants. Today we get an in-depth look at what it was like to work in the legendary kitchen, and more important, the experiences that have helped shaped Marcus into the chef he is today.
EOW: What do you think you learned the most working in the kitchen at The Fat Duck?
MM: Most importantly, it's a Michelin-rated kitchen, and it's not only a Michelin-rated kitchen, it's a three Michelin-starred kitchen -- the best that you can be, the very top. Everyone in the kitchen is focused, and can't not be focused. And you have to be precise and driven. Everything you do, you're doing repetitively. When you make it one day really well, strive to make the next day even better. It's things like always having your mise-en-place ready to go, and having a sharp knife, simple cook things.
EOW: So how many people in The Fat Duck kitchen?
MM: At The Fat Duck, the whole experience for a person, the ratio of one single patron to cooks is about 1 to 50. And in our R&D lab, there were four of us. We would come up with ten different recipes. Heston would be like, "I want something with this method, and this ingredient. Come up with a few different variations." We'd break that down, and he would take what he liked, and we would do it again. Sometimes a dish took one month to come up with, and some dishes took five months, and then sometimes we'd work on a dish for five months and nothing would come out of it, but we did gain one amazing technique.
EOW: What was the mission of the R&D kitchen?
MM: The mission of the kitchen was a few things. One of the big roles was helping to develop cookbook recipes -- breaking down recipes from the kitchen so that a home cook could do it at home. The other thing we did was develop the "Perfection Series," which was a BBC show. We did two seasons of it. We took ten different classic recipes and made them what has been called "perfect," using the best techniques to cook whatever -- we did hamburgers, we did classic fish pie and we did a lot of research for that. We would travel to the source where fish pie was made. Or, one of the dishes we worked on was Peking duck, and we'd source 50 Peking ducks to work on in one day -- just crazy things like that. And another thing was developing new dishes for the restaurant. And not just new dishes, but something very important for all restaurants was consistency. If we could come up with a new way of doing things so it could be as consistent as last time, we would do that, too. It was working on methods. It's places like that -- the R&D labs for The Fat Duck and El Bulli and Noma -- all these things that we came up with would trickle down to everyone else.
EOW: When you talk about technique that trickles down, were you using just regular cooking theory and applications, or were you using new gadgets?
MM: I was so lucky to be there. When a company like PolyScience or Pacojet -- when they would come up with a new invention, it would be like, "Here you go; why don't you try this $30,000 machine for free?" and we would play with it for two months to see what we could do with it. We were like mad scientists in there, completely open to whatever we could do.
EOW: So fast-forward to the food truck. With that sort of pedigree, I would imagine you'd go to New York or one of the food capitals of the world, and be flying around with all your technique. How did you come to be back in Houston?
MM: So after London, I moved back out to California, and there's where I cooked for another Michelin-starred restaurant called Cyrus. I stayed about a year and a half there, and gained everything I wanted to learn. Cooking at Cyrus really shaped me in terms of what kind of cook I am today, as far as the methodology of everything and setting up your station and things like that. But then I came home, and I was never really interested in being a cook in someone else's kitchen. I've always had a bigger dream and a bigger goal. And I saw an opportunity that was more than making new dishes. It was of being ahead of a trend, being part of a movement that's new here in Houston, not only for myself, but to be able to work with my partners, Ryan [Soroka] and Alex [Vassilakidis]; these are superstar guys, and they know how to do what they do really well, and to pair my knowledge of food with their knowledge of business, marketing and hospitality, it was like a dream team coming together.
EOW: Wow! I'm just really knocked for six, learning all these things about you.
MM: There's even crazier stuff. Right after The Fat Duck, I worked in Dallas as an R&D chef for one of the largest candy companies in the United States -- Pecan Deluxe. I spent a year traveling to companies like Dreyer's and Ben & Jerry's, and McDonald's and Dairy Queen headquarters, giving presentations on modern techniques and ice cream and new flavors -- that's a whole other crazy job.
EOW: So let me get the chronology right: The Fat Duck in London, Pecan Deluxe in Dallas, Cyrus in Healdsburg and then back to Houston. So you're how old now?
MM: I'm 29.
EOW: And you've been doing the food truck since 2010. So you're coming up on your two-year anniversary?
EOW: So, is the opening of your new cafe going to coincide with your two-year anniversary? And then, are you planning on keeping the truck?
MM: Of course. The truck is where we all started, and we'll keep that thing open. We love doing the City Hall Farmer's Market. It's going to be included in our 8th Wonder Brewery, when we do our tours. As far as the cafe, it should be opening sometime in October, but there's no exact date yet.
EOW: So the evolution of your style of cooking, how would you describe it now?
MM: I would consider it "modern interpretive and rustic."
EOW: I like that. It's like a new genre. With any influences? I see Asian influences...
MM: Absolutely. That's where I draw the most inspiration from. I love the Asian flavors. I love that a lot of the dishes have been older than the United States. It's very appealing to me and there's a lot of mystique behind it -- I've always drawn a lot of inspiration from Asian cooking.
EOW: So, the world is your oyster. Where do you see yourself five years from now?
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MM: Five years from now? I will be 34 years old. Oh my God. I don't know. We'll have the brewery. We'll have the cafe. Hopefully we'll have a higher-end restaurant in five years. Who knows where I'll be? I'm definitely going to be cooking. I've been cooking all my life, and I love doing it -- cooking on the line somewhere in five years, hopefully with the Eatsie Boys.
Check back with us tomorrow as we taste some Eatsie Boys' grub.