CHEF TALK: FIRE IT UP! with CHEF ANDREW MATTHEWS
It was 4 years ago that Chef Andrew took his first international flight and his destination: Dubai. He must have loved it enough, because he went back home to Australia, saved up enough to return a year later. Where many people change jobs regularly (in my estimation, the work change itch comes around the 3 year mark), Andrew’s role as Head Chef at Ultra Brasserie is only his third. I loved the heart-warming way in which he spoke about the Italian family on Philip Island in whose restaurant he started out as a dishwasher, and through whose ranks he rose to become Chef while studying at culinary school. His passion for organic and fresh food is constant, but his love affair with quinoa is quite another story.
Name: Andrew Matthews
Restaurant: Ultra Brasserie, Marina Plaza (near Marina Mall), Dubai Marina
From: Philip Island, S. E. Melbourne, Australia
Culinary School: William Angliss Institute, Melbourne, Australia
Knife Hand: Left
Twitter Handle: @UltraBrasserie
Were you a good kid, did you eat your veggies as a child?
I wasn’t, definitely not. Things like peas, olives, cauliflower I would not touch growing up. I started working in a Italian family restaurant as a dishwasher when I was 14 years old, and the family were the ones who actually introduced me to food. The Chefs used to ask me to eat some of the leftover food in the pan before washing it and I got introduced to ingredients like olives which I would not eat when I was younger. That is where I started getting into the food. I envied the chefs when I was a dishwasher, I wanted to do what they did, I guess.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
My father was a professional fisherman and he used to go away for weeks on boats. I went out one time with when I was very young for a couple of days and I loved it. So I guess I wanted to do that for a while, to do something out at sea. I love the ocean in general. But when I started working in the restaurant, growing up in a hospitality environment, I always wanted to be a Chef. From the age of 15, I was dead set on becoming a Chef. Both my older brothers are also Chefs. At the restaurant I grew through the ranks – from a dishwasher to a pizza chef to working on salads and then started as an apprentice.
What was your most memorable restaurant job?
I only have had 3 jobs so far. So it would definitely be the Italian restaurant I worked at on Philip Island – Pinos Trattoria. It was one of the biggest and most popular restaurants on the island run by a very well-known family. I got all my knowledge working from there. The head chef at the time, Luciano Scarlato, was the son of the owner who had just passed away and we took over the kitchen together and we revamped it together, redid the menu, re-hired and changed the kitchen up a bit and it was a very big success.
What did you have for lunch yesterday?
For lunch yesterday, I had an egg white omelette with asparagus and spinach at the Ultra Brasserie at Emaar Square, Downtown.
Place you eat most often on days off?
I don’t really keep going back to the same place, I like to mix it up. I explore a lot. We have an affiliated company where I spend a lot of my time, I really love it, not because it is affiliated – it’s called Reform Social Grill in the Lakes. They do British food there and I would recommend the English style roast they do. I also go to Fume at Peir 7. Another favourite place of mine is Bu Qtair, it’s a hidden place in Jumeirah 3 where the fishermen bring in their catch of prawns and fish and they have one marination and it’s extremely popular among the people here. I love the prawns and parotta there.
What’s your favourite ingredient/ condiment to work with?
I love working with Quinoa, all the colours. It’s so versatile; you can make almost any salad you want to make using quinoa, you can make desserts with it, it’s very versatile – it’s healthy, it’s got a lot of nutritional benefits.
If it’s the last weekend on earth – what city are you eating in and what are you eating?
I would be back on Philip Island in a restaurant called Infused eating oysters. They do a variety of oysters, each plate had 12 of them and they would do a pair with each flavour, my favourite flavours were pear and chilli salsa, Thai coconut red curry and Kilpatrick which is bacon, with Worcestershire sauce and barbecue sauce. Some of the oysters were baked while the others were fresh.
Most exotic vacation destination?
I left Australia for the first time when I came to Dubai for a holiday for about a month. I came back about a year later to work and in the 3 years that I have been in Dubai, I have not visited any other place, nor gone back home.
If you left Dubai to cook somewhere else, where would you go?
I would love to cook in a place where it snows, like Whistlers Resort in Canada. I spent some time in the mountains – Mount Buller – in Victoria and I really liked it that. We only have snow season for about 3 months in a year so I used to take some time and go off there when I had time off. I love skiing and I like the people up in the mountains as everyone is there on a break and for most people the work is on a temporary basis.
Who is the person you would most like to cook for?
I guess it would be the Italian family I was working for on Philip Island. I guess the reason why would be because they saw me progress, I did all my culinary training through them. It’s been 3 years since I last cooked with them so it would be good to show them what I have learned. I would most likely cook them something with quinoa. Back then I used to look at quinoa as a nightmare ingredient because I did not really know much about it but now I know a lot more. So I would maybe make them a Quinoa Salad with organic chicken, baby spinach and cherry tomatoes.
What is the dish on the menu you eat most?
The Pulled Beef Sandwich. It’s a slow braised beef which is done in a homemade spiced barbecue sauce and mature melted cheddar cheese in an oven backed brioche bun which we serve with fresh coleslaw.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
Food is not a destination but a journey. Keep on looking for good food, don’t slip into fast food, keep it fresh and organic.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
To me, offal and things like that I don’t like at all. Offal are organ meats like liver, brain, fish eyes. I have tried these in Australia but don’t like it. For me I just don’t believe they are meant to be eaten.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I did a five-course in a place at La Luna in Carlton in Melbourne run by Chef Adrian Richardson. It was just amazing and the Chef is well known for meats so the food was very meat oriented. It was just amazingly tender, soft meat it was paired with really nice wines.
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure food?
A full English breakfast – the whole nine yard – greasy fried eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans cooked by me at home.
If you were an ingredient what would you be, and why?
Rock Salt – I make everything around me better.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
The Chef I did my apprenticeship under, Chef Victor used to say yelling solves nothing, just fix the problem. That has rubbed off on me a lot.
If you weren’t a chef, or in the food business, what would you be?
Working on a film set as a production assistant.
Most underrated ingredient? Quinoa. People tend to stay away from it because people find it boring I guess. But I find it very versatile. People don’t realise how much they can do with it – it works in salads, you can bake it, use it for desserts.
Best culinary tool? Olive pitter. No one wants to pit olives with a knife. It’s a life saver. Other than that it would be a non-stick pan – makes everything easier and better. Life is easier with non-stick pans
A chef that inspires you? Jamie Oliver. He is so into healthy fresh foods, eating free range organic foods. He is against mass production, basically where they breed chicken in cages, where they don’t see the light of day and against animal cruelty. He is very passionate about it.
Favourite cuisine? Italian. I just like the flavours, herbs, I like slow cooked food. It has deep flavours and is hearty food. I love the classic dishes like saltimbocca – it’s seared veal with prosciutto with sage, butter and white wine reduction.
One dish you can’t live without? Poached eggs. I love eggs. So maybe eggs in general – but it has to be organic.
What’s one food trend that needs to end? Fried Chicken. Its half the reason for mass produced chickens. I guess its fast food in general. There is no love involved at all. It’s just killing the animals, there is no respect taken towards the food. It’s mechanical, there is no love involved in it. Someone hasn’t cooked you a dish that they have really put effort into.
Favourite food from your childhood/ Describe one of your first food memories. Vegemite on toast with melted cheese. I used to make it when I came home from school.
Last thing you cooked for yourself? Avocado and lime mashed on brown ciabatta. I love avocado and the brown ciabatta at Ultra is extremely fresh.
Describe your cooking style in 3 words. Organic, passionate and respectful (towards the food)
Food on a skewer or food in a tiny spoon?
Buffet or sit-down dinner?
Mints or gum?
Soup or salad?
Greek yogurt or labneh?
Butter or olive oil?
Chicken breast or chicken thigh?
Baked or fried?
Waffles or pancakes?
Lobster or steak?
And lastly, cake or pie?
Well, that’s that! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!