Saturday, September 12, 2009

Culinary Creativity: Chef Matthew Barros--Part 1

(Check out my Introduction to the Culinary Creativity series.)

Chef Matthew Barros is the Executive Chef for Myers+Chang, an Asian restaurant in the South End owned by Joanne Chang and Christopher Myers. The restaurant is "... inspired by Taiwanese soul food and Southeast Asian street food, all done with a great deal of care. It is a personal, sometimes loose interpretation, to be sure, but our criteria are simple: everything we make must be fresh, delicious, and addictive. We are passionate about sharing our love of this food with you." I have enjoyed numerous meals there, especially their weekend Dim Sum, and you can read some of my reviews here.

Chef Barros began his culinary career at the young age of 13, at the bottom, as a dishwasher. By the time he was 16, he had joined the cook line. He continue his training at the Culinary Institute of America and interned at The Grand Floridian Hotel and Resort in Orlando, Florida. He spent a few years working in restaurants in Florida before coming home to Massachusetts. He then started as the opening Sous Chef for Myers+Chang, eventually moving to the position of Executive Chef for Myers+Chang.

How important is culinary creativity to you? Why is it important?
What is culinary creativity? To me, it is what drives me every day, whether at work or wherever else I find myself. As a chef I have the power to present myself through the dishes that I create. Not only do I think it is crucial to be creative, but I also believe it is one of the hardest tasks I have at hand every day. We are all creative beings, but so many people have that fear of failure that keeps them from even trying to create.

Creativity to me is also important because it sets the tone of the restaurant. We as chefs spend every day finding and using the best and local produce daily, changing the menu seasonally, featuring highlights on the menu to bring new people into the restaurant, and keeping customers guessing what’s in store for them the next time they come into the restaurant. Each of these little factors plays a major role in creating a strong restaurant, and keeps the diners coming back for the food. Letting yourself be creative also plays a large role for your staff as well, with new dishes coming and going as daily specials or menu items I have the opportunity to teach my staff new things, as well as keeping the moral of the place high and never repetitive.

What are your most significant inspirations for your culinary creativity? What makes those matters so inspiring?
Inspiration is different from person to person, for me almost anything can be inspirational. Not to sound cliché, but I would truly have to say that my biggest influence is life; every moment I live through, every observation I make, and every realization I come to is where I learn and take little bits of knowledge with me into my food. Other straightforward inspirations would be reading, eating/cooking food, or just watching TV.

The most beneficial way for me to create is usually at home after work relaxing, without 15 projects running through my mind is, when I’m most at ease and can cruise through notes from the past and start to apply them to what I’m doing now, and in return I show my creative side and put my own personal touch on food. One of my favorite mentors once said to me “Don’t be afraid to open yourself to greater creativity because when you do, not only is that the real you, but greater changes will follow.”

I have about 5 little 5-star notebooks dating back from 2002 in Miami. Now these I keep very close to me, but I also have a large file cabinet at home with random recipes i have collected from other restaurants that i have worked at in the past, some are from independent places, and some are from the hotel scene where I have great recipes and plans when doing a party anywhere from 20-2000 people. I do add everyday to this collection depending on if there are ideas I would love to try which is one section in my files or recipes i know from doing separated from restaurant to restaurant mainly so I don't get confused with the styles of cooking that I have done so far in life. As an upcoming chef or truthfully anyone in this industry needs to write this stuff down there is no way any human being I personally think can remember from day to day what they do or even experiment with without having the basics on paper!!! I sometimes bounce back and forth, sometimes I'll have a notebook in my back pocket to put things in or if not the go on scrap paper and on my day off I'll clean them up and add to the files!!!

Part 2 of this Interview will be posted tomorrow.


New Foods and Trends said...

That sound like a very odd bit of fusion, "Taiwanese soul food and Southeast Asian street food"

You obviously believe it works, could you give us some ideas, examples.


Richard Auffrey said...

Just check out their menu on their website and you can see everything they have to offer.

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