Sept. 8, 2020

Chef Matthew Jennings - Getting Healthy, Moving to Vermont and His New Job and Business Ventures

Chef Matthew Jennings - Getting Healthy, Moving to Vermont and His New Job and Business Ventures

On today’s show I have Matthew Jennings. He is a chef/consultant, and VP of Culinary at Healthy Living Market & Café in Vermont. He is also the founder of Full Heart Hospitality which he runs with Jason Rose. 

Previously, Matt was the chef and owner of Farmstead restaurant and cheese shop in Providence, before moving to Boston, and opening Townsman restaurant. He’s the author of the 2017 cookbook Homegrown, and has been nominated for a number of James Beard awards.

Our conversation revolves around his decision to leave the restaurant, and move into consulting, and his new role at Healthy Living Market. You can also get a little more info on his next project, Red Barn Kitchen, which he’ll be starting with his wife Kate.

Also, please check out the website https://www.saverestaurants.com/ to find out how you can help restaurants that have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Matthew Jennings

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Matt’s Instagram https://www.instagram.com/matthewjennings/

Instagram for Healthy Living Vermont, Full Heart Hospitality and Red Barn Kitchen

Matt’s Twitter https://twitter.com/matthewjennings

Full Heart Hospitality Website https://fullhearthospitality.com/

Red Barn Kitchen Website https://redbarnkitchenvt.com/

Buy Matt’s Cookbook Homegrown

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Transcript

Chris Spear
Welcome, everyone. This is Chris with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. On today's show, I have Matthew Jennings. He's a chef/consultant, and VP of culinary at Healthy Living Market and Cafe. Welcome to the show, Matt.

Matthew Jennings
Thank you. Thank you. Good to be here, Chris. Good to see you again.

Chris Spear
I'm so glad I could get you on the show. I usually start by getting into everyone's back-story. I mean, I'm sure a lot of our listeners know who you are, but for those who don't, I'm going to give a quick synopsis. I would say that most of our listeners know you as the former chef and owner of Farmstead restaurant and cheese shop in Providence, Rhode Island, and later, Townsman in Boston. You released the cookbook Homegrown in 2017. You've been nominated for a number of James Beard Awards, and won Cochon 555 four times. You were a chef seemingly at the top of his game, and then you closed your restaurant Townsman a little over two years ago, and then last year traded Boston for Vermont. So. does that kind of bring everyone up to speed?

Matthew Jennings
That is a good synopsis. I would say yes.

Chris Spear
So, where does it make sense to jump in with your story? Maybe the decisions leading up to leaving the restaurant and moving? What do you think?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, sure. We've now been in Vermont here for a year. So, it was a year July. I guess I would just kind of say that it's been a long time coming. My wife is from here originally. I went to the New England Culinary Institute here, back in the 90s. I'm dating myself now. And I loved it back then, and always kind of had a great appreciation for the Vermont food ecosystem. I experienced a lot of firsts here in my food world, you know. I had kind of a connection here, and then I ended up spending you know, some time here, obviously, with my wife being from here, and I lived in Stowe for a while. It was just kind of always, you know, a place that we loved. So eventually, with the way things... you know, kind of happened with Townsman, and our decision to leave the city, we felt like we were freed up and and had the chance to come here. So, here we are. It's a beautiful place, and ton of incredible food, andI just feel blessed every day, particularly given the current climate of the world, to be in such a amazing spot.

Chris Spear
Most definitely. Being from Massachusetts, I follow the Boston dining scene pretty closely, which is like all major cities right now. It's such a big, hot mess. I can't imagine having a big restaurant in Boston, or any major city right now. It's It's so tough.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, it's a it's definitely been an eye opening year for everyone I know. But particularly for the hospitality industry, as so many people that listen to your podcast are very aware of. I think, you know, my decisions precluded, obviously, any COVID that was coming down the pike. My decisions were more based around my own personal health, which was not good at the time. And you know, other extenuating, challenging circumstances with the restaurant, and honestly, just trying to be a dad. Right? Trying to be a good dad, be a good husband. My priority list changed, and I knew that I needed to focus on myself and my family, and my well-being, and the well-being and health of my family. So after having that revelation, it just kind of drove me to say, you know, what am I chasing? And what do I need to be chasing? Maybe I should be chasing quality of life instead of accolades and "success". right? And so it just kind of changed my whole entire outlook and I started putting things in place to make those changes. Some were easy, and some were not, but now looking back, I'm literally watching the chickens outside my window right now, and I'm feeling pretty damn blessed.

Chris Spear
And you've also lost a lot of weight.Llike 200 pounds. Is that about right?

Unknown Speaker
Yep. I got to a point in 2016 where I was about 405 pounds. Drinking a lot. You know, falling down the kind of "chef lifestyle". The stereotypical situation of just too many late nights, too many bad decisions. All that sort of stuff. Drinking and drugs. I had some major anxiety disorders. I was in the hospital for a little while. I just wasn't well. And so, you know, I had some coming to God moments and one of them was, was actually New York City. I was going down to do a taping of CBS This Morning. And I left the restaurant at about 2am after closing up, got home, crashed for a couple hours woke up to get a 6am train out of South Station, threw a bunch of clothes in a bag and went down and jumped on the train, got to Manhattan in my hotel and opened my suitcase and realized that I had only packed socks and underwear but no clothes just because I was so exhausted and out of it. And I remember running around Manhattan, having to kind of go on CBS in a couple hours and having no clothes and having a panic attack and crying because I couldn't just walk into any store and buy clothes right because I was huge. And I remember that just kind of feeling of anxiety and and I decided kind of at that time it was it was time to change my life. And I remember coming back on the train after that and seeing My wife and saying, All right, today it starts. I don't know what that means. But you know, I'm going to get my health back. And we're going to change our lives. And I'm going to, you know, kind of put restaurant career on hold to figure out how I can be better to myself and better to you and are the kids.

Chris Spear
Yeah, it sometimes takes one of those moments. I'm actually right now, trying to be a lot healthier, and I'm down 25 pounds this summer. And it's been Thank you. It's been really hard. But, you know, similarly, I was in the 280s. But this past spring, we went to Disney for vacation. We went to Universal and you know, I got on the line for the Harry Potter ride with my family. We waited God longer than I want to talk about and I get all the way down there and I could not fit in the damn ride. Like, we sat down and they pulled that lap bar down, and I could not buckle in and they needed to stop that thing and kick me off like that kind of shit. Like, I mean, there's a lot of reasons before that should have been the change. Like, you're enjoying this moment with your family and you're like, wow, I am too fat to ride this damn ride that I've been waiting in two hours for line, you know, and just things like that you're like, this isn't working for me, like, something needs to change. So, you know, for me, it's, it's, it's, you know, I'm walking and running at least five miles a day. It's counting calories. It's like doing all that stuff. But, you know, it's been a hump, but I'm, I'm dedicated to making it work this time.

Matthew Jennings
That's great. That's great. I mean, it's amazing. I, I'll never forget the first time I had to ask for a seat belt extender on an airplane. And like, I totally justified it to myself, right? Like, oh, not all airplane seat belts are the same length, then like, maybe this one's just short and like, Well, you know, like, you do those things to yourself and you kind of convince yourself that like, you're okay. And then you just have at some point, like, you know, some gutter moments where you're like, wait a minute, this is not okay. And I think for me, it was particularly because I was watching it affect, like the relationships around me, you know? Like, my marriage was, you know, challenge. My, you know, fatherhood was a challenge, like, you know, all those things and when your kids start, I don't know if like, you know, anybody out there listening has children, but like, when your kids start calling you out, that's, that's when the shit gets real, you know? And like any parent, any parent, I don't care who you are, like you are, you know, completely desensitized if you don't feel something when your kids call you out on not being healthy or not getting a FaceTime with them or, you know, whatever the case may be, you know, so So yeah, it was just it was time to downshift, man and, you know, it is what it is like I you know, I ruined some relationships, right? Because of that decision for sure. But, uh, I knew that I had to take control my life. So it was kind of You know, live and live healthily and live well and take care of myself. And by, by that I could make sure that everything was good for everybody else or it was, you know, not and then, you know, the ramifications of not taking care of yourself also have obviously, you know, other, you know, have tributaries into all the relationships with everybody else. So, if you're not good, nobody else is good, you know?

Chris Spear
And, you know, is it something that is it possible to live a healthy lifestyle and be a chef, specifically, like a restaurant chef, you know, I had Brandon bolts Leon, a couple weeks ago and very similarly and you know, at the end of the day, he said, like, I had to leave the restaurant industry to get healthy, he had issues with drugs, alcohol, anxiety, all those things overweight and just like he felt like he could not continue to operate in a restaurant and live the healthy lifestyle. He needed and this is something that I keep hearing over and over from so many people. I don't know if we'll collectively get there, but you know, I hope so because I love the restaurant industry. But you know, a lot needs to change.

Matthew Jennings
Yeah. And I mean, it's been broken for so long, but, you know, we've all just kind of put our heads down and, you know, kept going. It's changing, though, right? Like this is definitely I think COVID has exposed so many things in our industry from, you know, the quality of life issues and the mental health issues to obviously, you know, issues of equality in the workplace, right? All of these things that were there and were simmering and bubbling away, no pun intended. And then COVID came along, right and kind of pulled the lid off of those things. And so now we're really kind of forced to take a step back, especially in these moments where you know, there are restaurants that are shut down, right and They can't afford to operate or, you know, they spend all this money and infrastructure and getting set up to be, you know, protecting their staff and their guests. And then they have a guest or they have a staff member that contracts COVID and they have to shut down again, you know, and this like cycle, it's like, it almost forces you as an operator and owner, to kind of step back and think about, you know, wait a minute, how am I going to do this now going forward in a way that's like responsible and equitable and you know, that that makes sense for not just my customers, but the people that work within my four walls. So, in some ways, it's an opportunity, right? I think there's a lot of opportunity that's come out of this moment for us to kind of look inside and and really kind of figure out how we're going to fix this thing. But you know, there are there are alternatives. And you know, I'm excited for what I'm doing now is being I think the prime example of of of you know, how We can still be in food and be creative and drive teams and, you know, work for really cool organizations and make great food but have a quality of life. So I'm excited to, you know, continue down the path of some of these new new endeavors.

Chris Spear
So what are some of those new endeavors?

Matthew Jennings
So I started my, my consulting agency back in Boston, prior to towns, men's clothes, and sale and I had been doing some consulting in the Boston area for different groups, and it was going well, so I kind of used that as a way to segue into, you know, a full time gig that didn't require me to be in a restaurant per se every day, and that also allowed us to make this move to Vermont because I could be essentially rokit working remotely working anywhere. My clients are all over the country and I have a wonderful part Who's on the west coast, Jason rose, who's also a chef. He's based in San Francisco. He should be on your list to talk to you as well, by the way, but Jason, you know, kind of covered the West Coast, I was covering the East Coast, we were kind of collaborating on all things in between. And that was going great. And then, you know, I had a local opportunity here in Vermont, I was doing some consulting for a local family owned natural foods and organic grocer here in the Burlington area that has stores in New York as well. And, you know, they just kind of started talking about, like, what would it be? What would it look like to kind of keep some of this culinary IP in house now that you're developing it for us? And, you know, so I said, Oh, I could give you 10 hours a week. And so then it was 10 hours a week, and then it was 20. And then they're kind of like, Well, what about a full time thing? I'm like, Well, you know, it's possible and I got to talk to Jason and you know, so it's kind of been coming for a long time, but I've now been on board with healthy living for two months as their VP of PR Military, and it's exciting, like I've been brought in to basically reset all of their housemaid food from, from their cafes, to prepared foods to, you know, whole meal replacement project to, you know, assemble the order lines and, you know, eventually catering and in a home and all a cart, right like down the road. So it's an awesome company. They've been around since 1986. super great ownership and very involved in and, you know, in the day to day and it's just, it's thrilling. And now I'm actually, you know, recruiting right for these various chef positions within healthy living. And I just literally hired three of my chefs from townsmen to move up here. And I'm now deploying them into different locations for healthy living to run the the food service within each store. So it's pretty, it's pretty exceptional, like set of circumstances, you know?

Chris Spear
Yeah, that's really cool. I love seeing chefs doing innovative have things in the food industry that don't necessarily relate to working in a restaurant. But I think that gets to be so hard for so many people because I think your, your identity is tied up in being a chef and what the idea of a chef is, and not just our industry, but when you meet anyone, like one of the first questions is like, what do you do? And you tell them, you're a chef, and they want to hear this story of like, where you work and where you cook. And I think so many of us, like, get this feeling like, Oh, I'm not a real chef, like, I don't work in a restaurant. I'm not an executive chef. I'm not winning any awards. And I think that's like so many people out and they just can't leave because they feel like if they leave that thing, that they're not a real chef, or they're a quitter, or something like did you have that feeling when you left? Or did you just know that like, you were comfortable with yourself, and you had to do what you had to do?

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, what's interesting, right, and it's like, I think it's, it's kind of you have to disassemble your ego, right? I mean, that's really what it comes down to. It's like, what are you really, what are you really working for? Right? You kind of have to ask yourself, and I think and I just had this conversation with somebody else. So today, but, you know, unfortunately, our industry has been built on these, like, you know, top 20 lists and the awards and the accolades, and who's going to get the cover of the next food wine? And who's going to get this and who's going to get the feature article and who's gonna get the TV show? And, you know, I think while there's value in some of that stuff, it definitely, it definitely, you know, warps kind of the perspective of, of perhaps what you what your real goals should be, right. And for me, I mean, like, that was the case. And I think, and I think it also really, it was a combination of like, the realization of that at the same time as like, it was like all these colliding factors it was that and then it was like, my family, right? And my family certainly being very vocal about like, wait a minute. This is actually like not cool that you're working 80 hours a week because when you do it up in the morning and you're on kid duty, like you're a piece of shit. And you know, that's not fun for anyone you know, and so there was that and then there was just a day to day challenges with the restaurant. So like, I had to kind of take myself out of it and and selflessly you know, say, you know, if I'm gonna I don't have any problem working hard I never have I love working I absolutely adore it like I my work is so important to me. And teaching my kids to have a strong worth work ethic is incredibly important to me. But like at what cost, right and like, what are you striving and working for? And so, you know, my, my perspective is just simply that like, I'm here to work for them, and I'm here to work to better you know, our life and to, to also I think, be a part of community right to like, find a way to have value to my community. That's important that doesn't go away. And that's a huge part of being a chef. So I feel like I still have those connections. And I'm still cooking for people. So yeah, I mean, I totally hear that and and i think There was a part of me that definitely felt some sadness, I guess and like, like stepping out of the restaurant world because it is kind of a fraternity in a lot of ways. But, you know, I'll tell you what, looking on this side at restaurants as of September 2020, I'm not jealous of much, you know, I mean, I miss certain things about it, right, like, I missed the fast pace like, you know, fun circus type environment. And, you know, the, the burns and the, you know, the the camaraderie on the line, and, you know, the madness and flurry of tickets coming out of a printer. I do. I mean, there are days certainly where I miss that stuff. But I, you know, the overarching view is, is, is sadly very dim right now, the restaurant landscape.

Chris Spear
How much did things change when you moved from Providence to Boston? I mean, I never got to go up to townsmen. But, you know, farmstead Like, you know, as a smaller place, it felt like a great neighborhood restaurant. I'm guessing you weren't doing nearly the covers there that you end up doing in Boston, like, did a lot change from the amount you were working the stress all that stuff when you moved or not? Or did it kind of stay the same?

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, no, it was definitely. You know, I think a lot of people looked at it as like, you know, again, kind of the pursuit of more notoriety, which is not what it was, for me, it was kind of, you know, Boston is my home. And from there, I wanted to move back there. I wanted to raise my kids there, it was important to me to like, you know, take them to Celtics games and like, you know, be able to hang out, you know, on the public garden and do all those, you know, great things I did growing up. But, um, you know, it was also you know, I'd be lying if I were to tell you that we weren't trying to leverage right like the reputation like I think we had a great reputation Providence We we had a very devout following. And you know, when you have people that come in your restaurant when you're 3040 veestro and say, hey, I've got this big, fancy, shiny 24 storey building in downtown crossing, you know, in the middle of Boston, would you like to come open a restaurant there? It's kind of hard to say no, you know, that makes you feel pretty good. And again, I think that's like the ego thing. Right? So, you know, I definitely, while I was in complete control of that journey, and I don't deny any responsibility. You know, that ship was pulling into the station, and it was hard not to jump on board, you know what I mean?

Chris Spear
So, it seems like you're happy doing what you're doing now with the consulting and all those things like that. But, uh, any thoughts about future endeavors of restaurant or some such thing?

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, so I drive my wife crazy, because I mean, you know how it is it gets in your blood. You can't get it out. You know, I am definitely going to do something. I don't know what it is like, I knew that I wasn't going to open a restaurant, quote unquote, restaurant in Vermont, right? Like, I think those days of like finding a space to lease, you know, negotiating that sort of a deal in putting a huge investment into a space that I don't own, you know, all of that, that sort of stuff is behind me. But, you know, we bought this amazing little property here in Vermont that had been kind of abandoned for a few years. It needs a ton of love. But the reason we bought it is because it has this amazing barn. And the woman that owned it before us was a cake decorator. So she built a commercial kitchen in a barn. And so I saw that and I said, Well, there it is, like, It's here. It's on our property. It's containable, it's controllable, I can turn it on when I want turn it off when I want it. And I can still be in food and so, so we're working on on a launch probably May, June next year of red barn kitchen, which will basically just be myself, my wife, who's a pastry chef. And the just the two of us kind of in there, and hopefully we'll see what COVID will allow, but the goal is certainly some catering some meal delivery, some kind of chef, CSA, subscription type, you know, deliveries, and then about 20 seats in the barn. So, that's, that's the goal. But you know, who knows what's gonna happen between now and then so?

Chris Spear
Yeah, that's exciting. I saw it pop up on Instagram a couple weeks ago, I was like, what's this and then it's, you know, pictures of this beautiful space. You even have some of the kids out there and the animals and stuff and it seems like just such a chill slowed down lifestyle from like, what I'm doing right now and what I'm used to.

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, it was just, I mean, it's Don't get me wrong. It's a luxury to be able to write like, Make that sort of a decision about your life. But, you know, we, I think it's part of that prioritization process. For us. It's like this way we can, we can still be in food, we can kind of be open a few days a week, if we want, and we can get the kids involved. And, you know, I mean, my goal long term is that they're, you know, they're helping run it, and they're seeing what it takes to kind of, you know, bring a vision to life, right? Like that's important that they understand the work that it takes to put into something that you love. But it's also feels a little bit more safe that way, you know, so, we'll see what happens. I'm actually like, literally my I'm talking to you right now with drawings for the architects, rendering spread out all over the dining room table. So it's starting to get real and it's going to be an interesting juggle, because I've also got, you know, my full time Gabe with healthy living and full heart and now this So, no, no, no downtime.

Chris Spear
So are you going in like cooking with healthy living? Like, do you have a test kitchen you're working out of what's the kind of workflow for that look like?

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, so hopefully living Scott, two locations right now one in South Burlington, one in Saratoga, New York. The one in South Bronson is 34,000 square feet. The one in New York is about eight, or excuse me, is also 34. And now we're about to open to more stores that will be about 18,000. And then some more after that. Each of them have a cafe and a kitchen in them, where they do all of their housemaid food, which, which I've now brought my guys up to help run. And then Red Barn kitchen will the goal long term goal is that it will be the kind of RND and demo kitchen for healthy living as well. So we'll be doing all of the r&d and recipe testing and you know, fun collaborations there with local partners. And, you know, kind of having a, an off site space where we can, you know, bring guests in and show them the connection between, you know, food and agriculture. And I mean, Vermont has so much to offer, you know, right it's just like it's so underrated and the food community here and the food ecosystem is just you know, just as good if not better than anywhere else I've lived so I'm excited to tap into it.

Chris Spear
I don't know that I've ever eaten in Vermont like in a you know, like a regular restaurant. I used to go camping there a lot when I was in Boy Scouts, but I think I need to take a trip up there and my wife's never been so we've talked about going up to New England and hitting all those places my family's never been so I think once a COVID thing chills out we're gonna take an epic road trip hopefully next year sometime.

Matthew Jennings
There we go next summer to no no better time in Vermont than you know, August September, October. It's it's pretty, pretty incredible.

Chris Spear
So you're doing a lot of consulting for restaurant like are you talking to restaurant tours right now giving them thoughts and ideas specifically around COVID and like pivoting and what they should do, is that something you've been working on?

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, Jason and I, through full heart have been doing quite a bit of COVID work over this past, you know, seven months. We've been, you know, writing playbooks, right for people operational playbooks, and trying to assist with, with pivots. And, you know, and trying to find new sources of revenue streams for people and streamlining their operations and product sets and, you know, working with their teams to understand safety and new health regulations and the whole kit and caboodle. Um, you know, it's been it's been interesting because there's really just No, there's no master plan for everybody, right? Like every, every situation and every operation is different. So you really kind of have to be, you know, it's very kind of custom Um, you know, work in that sense as far as understanding the operational log jams, right for every, every different situation. But it's been, it's been really awesome to be helpful. I feel, you know, I feel like we've been able to support people in a really, really hard time. And there's a lot of operators out there that just don't know what to do. You know, it's, it's a scary time and I think a lot of people get overwhelmed and so, you know, an organization like full heart is able to come in and have, you know, some great traction to be able to help people navigate a lot of these challenges. So it's a it's been rewarding.

Chris Spear
Yeah, and I'm seeing kind of the return of the comfort food and kind of like that idea of the family neighborhood restaurant almost like you know, the feeling every time I went into farmstead, you know, it's like, you just felt like cozy there like the food was elevated and it was amazing, but just that like comfy, cozy, and I think Those are kind of the places those are places I want to go to now. And, you know, that's kind of what I'm seeing where I live is just these kind of places that are not super formal doing, you know, some interesting food but comforting, I think those are the places that are going to do well not necessarily these places that you have to get on a plane and fly to to go have this like three star experience. In fact, a lot of those places aren't even opening up from what I'm seeing.

Matthew Jennings
Now, I think you're right, I think there's something about, you know, a pandemic, right to like, reset people and make them recognize, you know, how important it is to tap into the instyle jack and, and they want that kind of familiar environment where they feel comfortable and you know, maybe they know the owner by name or there's like some some heroes on the menu that they can depend on every time they go or, you know, whatever the case may be. I think it's definitely it's definitely a moment for the kind of mom and pop To shine those that can hang on, you know, and and the value that that those places bring to our communities is like unparalleled, right, like the kind of street level, you know, retail that small independent owner operators bring to, you know, medium to large size. You know, cosmopolitan areas is like so underrated, right? Like, I think, as a collective, you know, consumer base Americans are so used to, you know, the Dave and Busters and Applebee's and Dunkin Donuts of the world. You know, and we do forget about kind of the value that that a lot of these small places bring. And now I think we're remembering pretty quickly that you know, how important and integral independent restaurants are to, to the community. So, while we have the opportunity, you know, save restaurants is a great place. To turn to and be able to support so check, check, check them out. Is it is it safe restaurants calm or safe? restaurants.org I can't remember but

Chris Spear
I'll look that up. I know I've been there. I'll have to. I'll put it in the show notes once I double check on that.

Matthew Jennings
But, but definitely, you know, it's it's, it's amazing to watch I think like I was just talking with a couple cups about it yesterday like, watching all these different chefs throughout the industry. You know, embrace the challenge, right? And like, literally go so hard, like coming up with solutions for pickup and, you know, and grabbing go and how to order ahead on some sort of online platform, whether it's through their website or you know, third party, whatever the case may be, like, people are grinding right now to save themselves. And I think it's so important to remind you know, the consumer To to do what they can to support small restaurants right now.

Chris Spear
Yeah, I've seen some really innovative stuff come out of this. And I think hopefully things that will stick long after, you know, some of the challenges are related, I guess to policies, you know, like we're seeing that a lot of government agencies need to make allowances and accommodations for some of these things. And I guess we'll see how they stick you know, if they stick when this is all over, but um, hopefully they will.

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, I mean, I think you know, with with the winter coming you know, I'm getting nervous again, right. I think we had this moment over the summer where there was a little bit of a little bit of a breath of relief that you know, we could you know, restaurants could open patios, we could put outdoor dining, we could embrace the warm weather and utilize that to our advantage at least to make whatever revenue we could well, you know, quote unquote, make hay while the sun shines, right? Now that now that we're headed towards towards wintertime, again, and in most areas of the country, that means limited capacity for outdoor dining. It means, you know, having to figure out what indoor dining looks like. I mean, I just read the other day that New York is I don't know if they passed, or they're considering, like no indoor dining until there's a vaccine, like that's a death sentence, you know that that is a total death sentence for restaurants. So like, now I'm starting to get a little nervous. And I know that chefs and restaurants are is across the country are too. So, you know, I think without some sort of legislative assistance on either we'll definitely state levels but particularly the federal level. You know, there's going to be a lot of people that are in trouble. So I'm really hoping that something gets worked out on the hill and that, you know, we can see some sort of relief for hospitality. Absolutely.

Chris Spear
A question about your cooking how much is your the way you cook changed over the past couple years? Like, you know, are you cooking healthier? If you were cooking professionally or when you do is it like a healthier type cooking You know, I think of you is like great charcuterie boards and all these things. You've always done a great job with vegetables, but like how much has the way you cooked changed also kind of based on the way you have been eating?

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, I mean, that's a great question. I think I think that the real The only way it's really changed for me is like there's less of a focus on the kind of, you know, the gluttony that the adventure of gluttony right the dining can be the kind of like bone marrow and everything and roasted whole loaves of fogra and you know, and trails and you know, butter everywhere and rich Demi's and right like classical stuff, like I still have a huge love for all those things, but I would say that it's a little bit more nuanced now. You know, I really do love to focus on bright clean flavors, I love acid in dishes like, this time of year, my goal is to like do as little as possible to the ingredients if the ingredients are of quality. You know, and just really let the kind of foods speak for itself. So, you know, I think I think for me, like I definitely, you know, there was a part of like the old me if you will, that was like, how many you know, fried cutlets, can we fit between two waffles to make a sandwich type situation? And, you know, I don't necessarily think that way anymore. But really, you know, for me, I think more over than that is is just the way that I eat. So, I've really changed the way that I eat and I'm focusing on I mean, there's the, you know, admittedly The reality is that there's just there's things that do well with my system and things that don't and I've come to recognize over the years that you know, dairy is hard for me gluten is hard for me. And sugar is like, you know, my nemesis like I just I've such a sweet tooth ever since I quit drinking. I love sweet things. So I'm just doing my best to like, you know, stay focused in any Well, I definitely don't succeed every day, but hopefully I make up for with a run. So.

Chris Spear
Yeah, same. So, is there anything you want to share before we jump into like the last kind of quickfire questions? I

Matthew Jennings
don't think so. I think I think this is this is great. I think you're doing you're doing a great job.

Chris Spear
Thanks so much. Um, all right. So do you have a favorite dish or so from all your years of cooking? Is there something that you go back to especially at home, like, what is something that's just comforting for you that you really enjoy cooking? And maybe you hate this question, because I know a lot of chefs, it's not quite the what's your signature dish, but kind of

Matthew Jennings
No, no. I think I think it's a great question. Um, you know, we're a big pasta family um, you know we find a lot of comfort in in pastas you know, we don't make pasta at home all the time right I'm not gonna lie to you it's not like words like Nana's kitchen over here but um but I love like kind of really warming like pasta dishes you know, big shells and like, you know, beautiful sauteed you know, pastas with you know, chopped up vegetables and then some meats and stuff like that. Pretty simple. You know, I I do really love slow cooking so this time of year as we start moving into colder weather, like anything that's braised and you know, that falls apart and you know, is cooked on the bone like I I love that stuff. I've I've a real soft spot for for braises. And, and you know, I think that kind of like hearty, confined, kind of fun fall. Cold weather like stick to your ribs type of type of food is like where my heart will always be at you know, beans a lot of beans in the winter and you know breeze greens and, and that sort of stuff I I definitely am like a flavor forward guy like I try not to hold back I feel like for me like food should be memorable and and flavorful and so I try to try to layer in as much as I can you know when we do beans and braids, greens and all those sorts of things like what we're, you know, building braising pastes and adding pastes to you know, the pot and you know always like saving liquors and you know, just just really trying to constantly like figure out how we fortify as much flavor as possible.

Chris Spear
I love those Moxie beans from the cookbook.

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, the Moxie beans are fun. I still make them it's a it's it's, they're, they're they're addictive for sure. I like I like making them We've last winter we actually made a bunch and then Candace, you know, put them in jars. And then it was so awesome to have beans on hand. You know Moxie beans pre made on hand.

Chris Spear
I think I first had them like you did the cowshed on epic and Philly or something. And I think you made those there and I tried those that was probably like 10 years ago or something crazy. But it was so hard for me to make because like I'm in New England or I have my own recipe, right? And like, it's this family recipe and I'd never made beans that were like not my great great grandmother's beans, but I wanted to make them so I'm like, I'm going to try them. I'm not going to tinker with this recipe. I trust him but like that was one of those things was so hard for me to do is like make a different beans recipe.

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, yeah. It's like sacrilege, right? You feel like you're you're doing your ancestors and injustice.

Chris Spear
Yeah. And just just this week, I made the lamb meatballs from the cookbook, which I think is maybe the thing I've made the most I mean, they're so easy but with the harissa in there, and the the yogurt sauce like I think that's a great dish. And if people love lamb, it's one of my favorites and you know you can bang that recipe be out in like 20 minutes.

Matthew Jennings
Yep. Yeah, there's a lot of really good simple quick like flavor forward dishes and homegrown and like, I just I love this time like this time of year to be a chef in New England is like the greatest time like better better than summer like this, you know what I call the shoulder season as we start to get into the time of year though, like we're still getting tomatoes. You know, we're still getting peppers but we're starting to get squash and pumpkin and you know, brussel sprouts and like some of these other kind of cooler weather items like that's when like the bounty is just so prolific in New England and being able to like pull on all of those things simultaneously is like such a gift, you know, as a cook.

Chris Spear
Yeah, I know. I have both watermelon and squash growing in my garden right now. And it's like kind of conflicting. It's like this water. I haven't had any watermelon this year. It's huge. It's a bread for heirloom watermelon. And I haven't it's not ready yet, but it's like I've got that and then I've got these squash. It's like I'm gonna go from one right into the other.

Matthew Jennings
Yep, exactly. Yeah, exactly. Well, that's, that's that's the best. The best case scenario I think for for for a chef in a cold weather climate.

Chris Spear
Do you have any resources you'd like to share for anything? Whether it be to get through COVID to get healthier? Is there a favorite cookbook? A website? Like what are some of your things that you just love and think everyone should know about or you'd want to share with someone?

Matthew Jennings
That's a great question. I mean, I'm still I still have a cookbook problem. Um, you know, Chef chef habits die hard. I guess the worst habit that I still suffer from is a cookbook addiction. You know, I would just encourage people to seek out like, their favorite local booksellers, you know, like, like try to find that bookseller that focuses on culinary if there's one near you and just like dive in, you know, I feel like it's such it's it's money that's so well spent in these times that like most of us have, you know, less money resources than normal cookbooks still do do that thing for me, they still scratch that itch like I, you know, I get a new cookbook and I just get like a kid on Christmas day and I get so excited and I flipped through it. And I think about how I will adapt recipes and, you know, view things differently, but still use some of those concepts. And like, you know, Celia at omnivore is like a huge, like, I'm a huge fan of hers. And she and I talk all the time. And you know, I think like finding somebody like that, that you connect with, when it comes to, you know, cookbooks and the corner world is like, it's a great, it's a great resource. You know,

Chris Spear
it's cookbook season already. I've seen a couple start to come out the past week or so. And I love this time of year, but there's way too many. I feel like I pick up like 20 cookbooks from September to November, right?

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Chris Spear
Someone I was talking to one of my friends and told him I had this thing called Coming up and I said, Do you have any questions and he said, Ask him what his first tattoo was. Do you have? Do you remember what your first tattoo was?

Matthew Jennings
Yeah, my first tattoo is actually, I got when I was 18 maybe. I was a freshman in college, I think, is before I went to culinary school, I was at Hampshire College and Western Mass. And my buddy at school, his brother went to Bard in New York, and was a Asian Studies major and had learned how to how to grind his own ink and like build his own tattoo needles. And like a classic Tibetan, you know, way and so I opted to be one of his first canvases and probably probably foolishly So, but he, he did one of those kind of hand poke tattoos on my ankle. And that was my first tattoo ever. And I think, yeah, I got bitten by that bug in that moment. And there's such like a memory of place, you know, when that all went down, and I was like in New Jersey on spring break with my buddy and his brother and like, you know, in the attic of their house, and like, Tom Waits was on the stereo, and we were on mushrooms, like the whole thing, right, but, like, I just got bitten by the bug and like, I, you know, I never never looked back. I I still have some room left. But, uh,

Chris Spear
you know, approaching mid 40s, the skin isn't quite what it used to be heard for sure. I didn't even start until I was 30. And I felt like I went on a tear from like, 30 to 40. And it's like, okay, I've done. I played catch up really quickly. Like, I didn't even plan I went to a Tattoo Convention because a friend convinced me and I went there with no plan at all. And after walking around for like, eight hours, I was just talking this guy's like, are you gonna get any work done? Like, I don't know, here's some ideas. And he just sketched something out and like that was it and like you said, like, you get that you're like, Oh wow. Like when Is it too early to get another one?

Matthew Jennings
Exactly? Exactly. Yeah, no, I, I think my days of like investing in my tattoos like I used to is over now it's kind of more like, you know, I actually just was talking with my wife the other day because we've been here. We've been in Vermont now a year and I'm like, Oh, it's been a year. Like, I think the last two I got was before we move. So I was like, God, it's been a year since I've been tattooed. And she's like, Don't even think she's like, what, you know, Woody? What do you mean? And I'm like, I just feel like it's, you know, it's been too long.

But well, thanks

Chris Spear
so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it. I'm so glad we could catch up.

Matthew Jennings
Now, it's been great man. And I've always been a big fan of yours and, and excited to, you know, continue to listen to the podcasts and watch all the things that you do. And you're such a, such an incredible supporter of the industry. And, you know, thank you for that. It's it's very refreshing to have those voices out there advocating for, you know, the community and I it's just it's been awesome. What's your trajectory? So thanks for having me.

Chris Spear
I really appreciate that. Thank you. So to all of our listeners, this has been the chef's without restaurants podcast, as always, you can find us at chef so that restaurants.com and org and on all social media platforms. Thanks so much and have a great day.