100km Foods Brand Ambassador, Chef Matt Simpson, is the Executive Chef at Toronto's Constantine Restaurant and a fierce advocate for local food.
Chef Matt would be the first to tell you that he became a chef somewhat by accident. As a young teen, Matt got his first job working at a Kelsey’s in the dish pit and doing prep. He kept with it until he graduated from high school.
When he graduated, culinary school wasn't even on his radar. In fact, he made some forays into different areas. At first, he studied to be an electrician, and then he explored business.
While exploring these different career paths, he wasn't feeling fulfilled. That's when he realized that he’d been working in kitchens for years and had always enjoyed it. He found himself wondering if a career in culinary is the path he should pursue.
Matt’s father encouraged him to complete a post-secondary education, so he enrolled in culinary school at George Brown College Centre for Hopitality & Culinary Arts. After completing the program, he moved from Whitby to Toronto to work in restaurants, and hasn’t looked back.
Now, working in the restaurant business isn’t for the faint of heart. As Matt puts it, ‘It’s a really daunting business, it can be really long days and it can be really easy to get kind of down in the dumps.’
Why Local Food & 100km Foods?
So, what keeps him passionate in such a demanding job? He says that at the end of the day, it’s all about the people. This is two-fold. On one hand, it’s gratifying to look out on the dining room and see your guests enjoying their meals. On the other, you also get to meet the people that are growing your food.
Their passion, Matt feels, invigorates and renews his passion for food. Matt is also one of the biggest fans of the 100km Foods Meet and Greet we host annually for Chefs and Farmers. He appreciates the opportunity to deepen personal connections with the local food producers we partner with. We see him there every year without fail!
Matt Simpson's relationship with 100km Foods is very special one. He's been a long time supporter and, as he says, ‘You guys have a special place in my heart.’
Matt isn't one of those chefs who grew up with a strong food history. He doesn’t have a lot of nostalgia or familial food memories that guide many others into a career int he culinary arts.
Instead, he has come to be a local food champion through years of learning in kitchens and building relationships with farmers. He feels 100km Foods has been a huge component in bridging that gap.
Tips for Seasonal Menu Planning?
We turned then to the subject of sourcing local food and how to build a seasonal menu, Matt always considers the following: "if I were travelling, what would I look for when I'm eating out?
The answer, he says, is a dish that gives him a sense of place, even if it’s a specific style of cuisine from another part of the world.
At Constantine, Matt has a unique opportunity to do just that. It is a hotel that has a Mediterranean menu, but he infuses the cuisine with Ontario ingredients to showcase the terroir of Southern Ontario. It’s exciting and creates endless possibilities to be creative.
When planning seasonally, Matt says, "if you are attuned to the seasons in Ontario and plan accordingly, prices will be competitive.
Matt uses the example of finding strawberries in the winter that aren’t super expensive. He says, "we need to start asking the hard questions. Why isn’t it expensive? Shouldn't something grown and then flown halfway across the continent be more expensive? Shouldn’t it be more expensive?"
That being said, he’s happy that today’s diner is more educated. They are curious about how we source and grow our food, and they are asking questions. Matt is always more than happy to tell his diners the story of the local food producers and farmers who grew what’s on their plate.
Tips for Sourcing More Local Food?
When it comes to sourcing local foods, Matt says, "it's not just about the idealistic picture of a farmer painstakingly harvesting to order. Sometimes that doesn’t always translate to high-quality ingredients chefs look for."
It’s about knowing both the story and the trace-ability that 100km Foods provides, as well as the guarantee that the products are excellent.
He has other great advice for chefs as well. He says, "if you’re paying a premium for vegetables, make them the star of the plate. If you are able, buy whole animals and serve off cuts to keep your pricing in line."
Trace-ability is Matt’s top priority when sourcing local foods. He makes sure that this translates to both the back of house, and front of house staff who can convey this to the guest.
He isn’t exaggerating when he says, "I know the name of the farmers who grew this food". It's this kind of connection that he see is seeing being appreciated more and more by guests. He says, "I want to live in a world where the little things matter."
Matt also says that 100km Foods makes planning seasonally and sourcing local food easy. Chef Matt Simpson's Favourite 100km Foods products?
We asked Matt for some of his favourite products that he sources through 100km Foods.
Without hesitation, he said, "New Farm Greens." He still remembers the first time he tried them, thinking, "oh it’s just a handful of lettuce." He was blown away by the quality and taste saying, "you don’t even need dressing, it’s SO GOOD."
We absolutely agree! Matt also loves K2 Milling saying, "anything Mark Hayhoe touches is gold to me." He loves the Algonquin grits, even making sure he has his own supply of K2 products in his kitchen at home!
Favourite Meals to Cook With Local Food?
Naturally, we asked him what his favourite meals are to cook are, to which Matt answered, "anything over live fire." He says that even simple ingredients turn into something awesome over the grill. Asparagus with a little salt and pepper and steak are one of his go-to's.
He also loves making things in a terrine as well as different kinds of paté. He also really enjoys cooking for his family and friends, and hosts a lot of dinner parties in his home.
Next, the hard question. When we asked Matt who he’d have dinner with, dead or alive, he couldn’t settle on one person. His first pick is Geddy Lee from Rush. Apparently Geddy is a big foodie and eats in Toronto restaurants, and Matt thinks it would be awesome. He’d also love to eat with Alton Brown, Paul McCartney, or George Harrison!
If it wasn’t clear by now, Matt’s second great love is music. If he wasn’t working as a Chef, he definitely thinks he’d want to do something with music. Matt’s father is a musician and instilled Matt with a good ear and a deep appreciation for music.
We loved sitting down with Chef Matt Simpson and listening to him talk to us about local food. His knowledge and commitment to the ethos of 100km Foods is one of the many reasons we’re SO lucky to have such a great supporter in him. We're so thrilled to have him as one of our 2019 100km Foods Brand Ambassadors!