Moxy in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a native of NH and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. Matt worked under Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry and also headed with the team to open Per Se in New York City. Of this experience, Matt says, “Every day was an education, and I didn’t want to miss any of it. Working for arguably the most influential American born chef in history was an amazing experience.” Matt eventually left NYC and became a culinary instructor at Southern New Hampshire University, later working at Wentworth by the Sea Hotel and Spa. It was then that he met Portsmouth-area restaurateur Jay McSharry and the two discussed the idea of opening a restaurant in Portsmouth.
Prior to opening Moxy, Matt embarked on a series of stages at top restaurants including Noma, Momofuku KO, Torrisi, and Eleven Madison. At Moxy, Matt brings together his appreciation for and commitment to local product, and a desire to make it fun and approachable with food and service at the highest level of quality. Matt says, “Modern American tapas just means really great locally sourced food meant for sharing." I was very impressed with Moxy, with its chef, philosophy, drinks program and food, and you can check out my rave review. As I have said before, it is well worth the drive to Portsmouth and I look forward to my next trip up north.
(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)
Now onto the interview--
How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
Every dish we do has a purpose, we never just have a dish hit the menu without a reason. Creativity comes in many forms, but for me, it is more about finding purpose, identity and reason...then making sure everything follows that common thread with your own voice.
What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
Inspirations come from everywhere...most important and significant are ones I have seen at Torrisi in NYC as well as David Chang's restaurants...not so much what they were doing in terms of actual dishes...but that they had foudn their voice, found their purpose and stick to it.
Where do you get your ideas for new recipes/dishes?
Our dishes come from 3 sources: 1) history and culture of our area 2) our own twists on iconic tapas dishes 3) what the local farmers are growing. Everything fits into at least one of these categories, if not more than one.
What is your process of creating a new recipe or dish?
Start with one of the above 3 listed criteria and let it evolve into something that makes sense for our restaurant...it could be an ingredient that has become available, or a historical or cultural significant dish that we than evolve into our own.
Do other members of your staff assist with creating ideas for new recipes/dishes?
Constant, and always.
How do you test new recipes/dishes?
Some we do tests, other we just go with....really depends on the nature of that specific dish.
What is the most difficult part of culinary creativity?
You must be highly organized in your operation to allow the time needed to really think, this, coupled with the balance of also trying to maintain a viable business at the same time is the biggest balancing act.
Do you ever experience "writer's block," an inability to be creative, and if so, how do you deal with it?
It is difficult to continue to push the mental part of what we do when we are really deep in the day to day...it almost has to happen away from the day to day operation...too much going on, too many distractions, and too much to tend to.
Relate an unusual or interesting anecdote about the creation of one of your dishes.
Hmmm....the fact that we serve burgers...I had no intention on opening a restaurant that serves burgers. However, when the identity became clear that this was going to be a modern American tapas restaurant and all items would stem from that...a huge part of tapas menu is bocadillos (small sandwiches)...traditionally Spanish in approach, we needed to look at how to make this American...the most iconic American sandwich...the burger. We had no choice. We did not want to jump on the "slider" bandwagon, nor did we simply want to serve a burger to please the masses...but when looked at it from the way we got there...it had to happen. I wish the whole "slider" thing never happened...we would have still come to the same conclusion about serving our mini burgers regardless, because it made sense with the thought process of how we got there...it just also happened to be one of the most overplayed items in restaurants...but again, we had no choice, the identity, concept, and reason told us we had to.