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Q+A with Chef Pressler of Matador Restaurante

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  • 1. Life  on  the  Line     Let's  face  it;  making  it  in  the  restaurant  business  is  a  lot  harder  these  days.   Customers  are  savvier  (hence,  more  demanding)  than  ever,  and  with  the   economy  under  the  weather,  they're  also  spending  a  lot  more  time  in  their   own  kitchens.  And  forget  about  all  the  diet  restrictions  and  calorie-­‐ counting  going  on—it's  a  challenge  for  any  chef  to  cook  just  the  way  he  or   she  wants  to.  However,  as  Matt  Pressler,  chef-­‐owner  of  Matador   Restaurante  in  Wayne,  PA  has  figured  out,  if  you're  willing  to  adapt  a  bit,   chefs  and  customers  can  have  it  all:  creative,  health-­‐conscious  food;   affordable  prices,  lick-­‐your-­‐lips  libations  and  the  pleasure  of  not  having  to   do  the  dishes.  Certainly,  it  helps  if  you're  a  fan  of  Spanish-­‐Mexican  cuisine,   robust  riojas,  tempranillos  and  tequila,  a  culinary  cocktail  guaranteed  to   deliver  a  real  pop  to  your  palate.  But,  if  you're  not  quite  sure  what  makes   this  combination  so  special,  it's  a  safe  bet  that  Chef  Pressler  will  change   your  mind.  So  pour  yourself  one  of  the  above,  keep  reading,  and  get  to   know  a  little  bit  about  this   pro-­‐soccer  player  turned  chef   and  his  passion  for  cooking.           What  is  your  culinary   background?   I'm  one  of  those  chefs  that   took  a  circuitous  route  to  the   kitchen.  My  first  restaurant   job  was  bartending,  during   college.  One  night,  the   kitchen  was  short  on  staff,   and  I  was  called  in  to  help.  I   had  cooked  plenty  of  things   as  a  kid—pancakes  were  my   specialty,  and  also  marinated   chicken,  seared  then  finished  in  the  oven  with  a  French-­‐Italian  dressing   glaze—and  had  natural  ability  and  interest.  Management  noticed,  and   decided  to  leave  me  in  the  kitchen.  It  was  a  complete  departure  from  the   pro-­‐soccer  and  physical  therapy  path  I  had  started  walking  down.      
  • 2. Who  has  influenced  your  cooking  the  most?     For  me,  it's  less  about  having  a  culinary  mentor,  than  about  having   "operations"  mentors  who  taught  me  the  ins  and  outs  of  actually  running  a   kitchen.  My  passion  for  cooking  is  something  that  has  always  been  stirred   by  ingredients  first,  rather  than  the  final  product.  Traveling  to  Italy  and   Spain,  and  seeing  the  farms  and  the  freshness  of  the  produce  and  the   meats…  that  has  been  my  most  powerful  muse.  I  am  going  back  to  Spain   at  the  end  of  this  year  and  I  can't  wait.       How  would  you  describe  the  cuisine  at  Matador?     Authentic  Mexican-­‐Spanish—both  of  these  cuisines  have  an  incredible   range  of  of  ingredients  that  can  be  paired  in  a  number  of  combinations   that  make  each  dish  taste  totally  new.  For  instance,  simply  switching  out   an  ancho  chili  for  a  guajillo  pepper  makes  an  enormous  difference.       How  do  you  explain  the  differences  and  similarities  in  the  cuisine?     That's  not  too  tough…  both  are  similar  due  to  the  consistent  presence  of   rice  and  beans,  and  garlic,  along  with  overall  earthy  and  smoky  overtones.   But  the  differences  are  more  noticeable:  Mexican  uses  all  fresh  meats,   nothing  cured;  and  more  fresh  peppers,  rather  than  dried.  Spanish  dishes   are  richer  and  more  subtle…there's  no  fast  rush  or  sting  of  heat,  but  rather   a  rounder,  more  blended  flavor.  Plus,  Spanish  chefs  enjoy  using  dried  fruits,   nuts  and  preserves.  And,  there's  no  cilantro  in  Spanish  cuisine.           What  menu  items  best  exemplify  each  cuisine?   For  the  Mexican  side  of  things,  I'd  have  to  say  the  tequila-­‐infused  Jalapeño   Relleno  or  Poblano  Mole;  definitely  it's  the  paella  or  octopus  with  potatoes,   hot  paprika on  the  Spanish  offerings.       How  does  what  you  serve  differ  from  what  you  would  serve  if  you   weren't  worried  about  customers'  tastes  and  budgets?     I'd  be  more  adventurous  and  playful  with  ingredients—I'd  juxtapose  more   things  such  as  cherries  and  habeneros,  coffee  and  rice.  Or  how  about   roasted  garlic  ice  cream…  Other  lesser-­‐used,  hard  to  find/  pricier   ingredients  too,  such  as  roe  and  eel,  that  I  can't  build  into  the  budget  now,   based  on  our  price  point.  Even  our  most  "exotic"  dishes  are  geared  toward   a  more  conservative,  suburban  palette.  It  has  always  surprised  and  
  • 3. confused  me,  that  Main  Line  customers  are  willing  to  try  new  things  in  the   city,  and  pay  more  for  them,  than  here  in  the  suburbs.         Which  three  cooking  gadgets  or  tools  are  your  favorites?     I  have  lots  of  favorites,  but  the  lava  rock  mortar  and  pestle,  my  chef's   knife—a  6-­‐inch  hammered  metal  Shun—and  my  sous  vide  machine.  Got  to   have  that  for  our  chicken...     What  are  some  of  the  essential  characteristics  of  a  chef  who  is  going  to   shake  up  the  world?   I  think  No.1  is  a  strong  imagination.  It’s  hard  to  be  creative  if  you  can’t   imagine  an  ingredient’s  flavor  during  preparation  or  even  when  you’re   daydreaming  about  creating  a  dish.  All  chefs  need  to  have  a  high  respect   for  ingredients  and  an  ability  to  maintain  a  food’s  integrity  (and  flavor)   through  the  storing  and  cooking  process,  but  I  think  consistency  is  one  of   the  greatest  measures—anyone  can  make  something  good  once.    However,   like  any  artist,  it’s  the  passion  (and  skill)  to  stick  to  your  ethics  while   translating  your  vision  to  the  customer  that  pushes  chefs  to  the  top.       Go-­‐to  reference:     The  Spanish  Table  by  Steve  Winston  has  a  lot  of  history  and  authenticity.   Most  of  the  other  cookbooks  that  I  have,  I  read  for  brainstorming,  not  for   recipes.  They  can  inspire  me  to  get  out  of  a  rut.       What  is  your  favorite  music  to  play  in  the  kitchen?     Definitely  mood  dependent…it  can  range  anywhere  from    classic  rock  to   Frank  Sinatra.  I  also  have  to  share  the  music  decision-­‐making  with  the  guys   on  the  line,  so  it  depends  on  their  mood  too.       Which  are  the  most  over/underrated  seasonings?     Black  pepper.  It's  a  completely  flat  layer.  Underrated  would  be  adobo   seasoning,  which  is  great  for  adding  flavor  to  meat,  poultry  and  fish.  Garlic   is  pretty  overrated,  only  because  it  is  used  incorrectly  too  often...not   roasted  properly,  not  chopped  properly,  added  to  a  dish  at  the  wrong  time.   All  of  this  can  make  a  dish  taste  too  bitter  or  too  hot.  Cardamom  is   underrated—it's  perfect  for  both  sweet  or  savory  dishes,  with  its  earthy   flavor  and  aroma.  
  • 4.   Salt  on  the  tables,  yes  or  no?     NO.  Also,  it  would  be  good  for  diners  to  know  that  when  a  chef,  well  at   least  this  one,  puts  a  lemon  on  the  plate,  it  is  meant  to  be  used.  The   combination  of  salt  and  saliva  helps  circulate  a  food's  flavor  over  your   tongue.  This  is  another  reason  why  you  should  try  all  the  components  of  a   dish  together.  It  will  give  you  the  chef's  whole  vision,  which  is  especially  in   ethnic  dishes,  is  about  texture,  flavor  AND  color.       Is  there  a  guilty  secret—something  canned,  something  wholly   unsophisticated—in  your  arsenal  of  ingredients?     Well...yes.  Canned  corn  fungus;  it's  too  hard  to  get  in  fresh,  and  Uncle   Ben's  long-­‐grain  rice.  A  medium  grain  is  more  authentic,  so  it  IS  kind  of  a   culinary  sin.  We  do  at  least  crack  the  grains  though.  I  don't  use  in  our  paella   though.  For  that  we  use  calasparra  rice,  or  bomba.  These  suck  about  2/3   more  liquid  in,  which  builds  more  flavor.)       Which  item  in  your  home  fridge  would  you  least  like  to  cop  to?     SpaghettiOs     Is  there  a  food  you  can’t  bring  yourself  to  eat?     Well,  there's  so  many  great  foods  I  haven't  tried  yet,  I'm  pretty  certain  that   I  don't  need  to  eat  flesh  or  live  bugs.     You've  got  30  minutes  to  cook  a  nice  meal;  what  would  you  cook?     Hmmm,  how  does  rack  of  lamb  with  lobster-­‐loaded  rice,  drizzled  with  beet,   melon  and  guajillo  pepper  reduction  sound?  The  bright,  pinkish-­‐red  will   add  visual  interest  and  the  juicy,  sweet-­‐tart  juices  and  the  fruit  will  cut   through  fatty  flavors  of  the  lamb  as  well  as  pull  out  the  lobster's  sweet-­‐ salty  essence.       How  has  being  a  chef-­‐owner  changed  the  way  you  cook?     There  is  a  lot  more  stress  and  pressure  to  perform  when  you're  anxious   about  selling  and  not  wasting  what  you  prepare.  It  takes  a  bit  of  the   spontaneity  and  innovation  out  of  planning  a  special.  You  really  have  to  be   conservative  in  choosing  ingredients.  However,  this  has  helped  me  become   more  focused.  My  mindset  is  always,  "Every  dish  matters."    
  • 5. What  ingredient/s  can't  you  live  without?     Onions,  guajillo  peppers  and  garlic       When  entertaining  with  family  and  friends,  are  you  a  "group"   participant  or  do  you  start  to  take  control?   I  generally  aim  to  be  in  the  background  and  not  hover  around  the  food  as   its  being  prepared.  It's  important  for  me  to  not  be  a  chef  when  I'm  out.  It's   not  about  food  at  that  point;  it's  about  the  people  preparing  the  food  and   creating  a  social  experience.       What  has  been  your  greatest  culinary  conquest?     Matador—the  combination  of  running  the  restaurant  and  being  behind  the   line.       What  would  you  be  your  fantasy  restaurant?     A  restaurant  right  on  the  beach  where  you  could  build  ground  ovens  to   bake  fish  and  cook  paellas  all  day  on  driftwood.  People  are  more  humble  at   the  beach,  more  in  relation  to  the  earth  and  the  larger  world  around  them.   This  makes  them  more  appreciative  about  what  they're  eating.       Name  three  things  in  your  refrigerator  right  now...     Skim  milk,  pizzelles,  Chiuahua  cheese,  bell  peppers,  (a  variety  of)  fig  jam   and  some  questionable  leftovers.       …  in  your  summer  garden?   Tomatoes  and  hot  peppers     Worst  kitchen  disaster?     One  of  my  guys  had  the  large  cheese  grater  attachment  on  a  60-­‐qt  Hobart   floor  mixer,  and  he  put  his  hand  in  to  get  the  last  bit  of  cheese  out  while   the  mixer  was  still  on  high.  His  finger  was  no  match  for  the  blades.       What  motto  or  advice  do  you  live  by  whether  in  the  kitchen  or  out?     Do  it  right  the  first  time,  preparation  is  everything,  and  haste  makes  waste.     Matador  Restaurante,  110  N.  Wayne  Ave.,  Wayne,  PA  19087;  (610)  688-­‐6282,   www.matadorrestaurante.com,  Facebook