Gerry Glynn of EatDrinkJax.com interviews Chef Medure.
Matthew's - Scallops
Photo courtesy Paul Figura.
1. Can you tell us about your background?
Matthew's ~ Matthew Medure
I'm 44 years old now. My family started in the catering business in Pittsburgh, PA. I grew up in that facet of food, not necessarily cooking, but I'd go to work with my father in the summers and do things like cleaning and washing dishes. I learned a serious hard work ethic in that way. Before my father had his catering business he had a sausage business. When his catering business started getting busy I was able to buy the sausage business from him. I was a 10th grader in high school and I'd come home and make sausage for hours, going through hundreds of pounds of pork butt. My father would sell the sausage for me the next day. It was kind of cool; I got a taste of business at an early age.
During high school, I also began to do a little cooking. My parent's food is very good, but it's also very casual and very high volume. It was not something I wanted to do all my life, so I decided to go off to culinary school at 18. My initial intent was to go back and work with my family to help build the business and elevate the quality of what they were doing. But once at culinary school I got a different taste of the industry and decided there was so much more out there. I really worked hard and was at the top of my class. The corporate chef of the Ritz-Carlton came to our school and I was fortunate to be one of two chosen for an externship at the Ritz-Carlton's flagship hotel in Buckhead. I worked in a restaurant called The Cafe. It's a glorious cafe, with a really high volume breakfast, lunch and dinner. One of the reasons I chose the Ritz-Carlton is that they had a Michelin starred chef, Guenter Seeger, who I admired greatly.
He was the only 5-star, 5-diamond chef in the whole company at that time and he worked upstairs in the fine dining room. I was able to speak with him and he gave me permission to work for free, which was amazing! I'd work my whole shift in The Cafe, from 7am - 3pm, and I'd go right upstairs and work from 3pm - 11pm, for free. I did that for 5 or 6 months. I never cooked anything - Chef Seeger wouldn't allow me that. I don't blame him, he was probably the top chef in the country at the time. Although I didn't cook for Chef Seeger, I learned to respect food. Farm to table is popular today, but that's the only way I ever learned - even back in 1988 at the Ritz-Carlton. We had farmers showing up at our back door bringing pheasants with feathers on them, mushrooms that had just been harvested from the hills of Atlanta, and cheese made right there. I just never knew any other way to do it. I fell in love with that type of cooking, I really did. The menu was hand written every day, with whatever showed up at the back door. I learned to respect the food, to treat it well, and to keep it simple. In my whole career I've never covered up the true essence of a product. I always source out the highest quality local, organic, and sustainable food available. I treat it with integrity and try to make it shine on its own.
I worked at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead for about a year's time when the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island was about to open. They saw my drive and so they asked me to be their chef at the restaurant there. So, in one year I went from intern to chef! I was only 21 years old when I walked into the fine dining room. Guenter would come and visit me there - we had a really good relationship and he became a mentor of mine. Shortly after arriving I became the second 5-diamond restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton family. I spent about 6 years at Amelia Island.
2. What does it take to become a 5-diamond restaurant?
At the time we were the top restaurant in the state of Florida. 5-diamond is a AAA designation and it's representative of the highest standards of freshness, creativity, execution, and service in the dining room. Back in the 1990's 5-star and 5-diamond awards were a really big deal.
3. What attracted you to a career as a chef?
Honestly, it's all I knew. I grew up in it, I was good at it, and I like to eat. I really love food. I think I'm a servant by nature - I love feeding people and I love to make them happy with food. I love to enliven their senses and watch their faces light up. It was a lot of fun in the early years here at Matthew's when I was cooking in the kitchen every day and we had such a great time.
Matthew's - Salmon
Photo courtesy of Paul Figura.
4. How did you go from Amelia Island to Jacksonville?
I spent 6 years at the Ritz-Carlton and felt that I had no more advancement available to me. I didn't want to go run a hotel. I was starting to get blackballed by the company because they would offer me Executive Chef of large hotels and I just didn't want it. I saw what my Executive Chef did - he did everything but cook! I really wanted to stay restaurant driven. I actually offered to try to raise money and buy the restaurant. In 1996 that wasn't fashionable yet, so they kind of laughed at me and I put my notice in.
I have to say that the job at the Ritz-Carlton was a really great job. It was a beautiful restaurant that paid me a good salary and provided stable work. It let me shop the world's market. It really was a cush job. I went from the cocoon of that into a business that I'd never run solely myself in an industry with one of the highest failure rates. It was nerve racking and I woke up more than once thinking "I'm not going to do this." I chose Jacksonville because I'd seen so many people driving from Jacksonville to Amelia Island to eat at the Ritz-Carlton. I knew we'd have a local fan base of hundreds. That was comforting to me, to know that the day we opened we'd be busy. So I took a year off to build Matthew's in San Marco and we opened in 1997. We were only a 50 seat restaurant and the first day we opened we did 50 covers. The second day we did 70 covers. The third day we did 90 covers. Then we maxed out on and off for about 3 years. It was amazing. We paid the restaurant off in 3 years. It was ultra successful. Everyone was telling us not to do it. They said Jacksonville was just a barbecue town. They're never going to like our food. That kind of fueled me to take on the challenge.
5. What's the overall concept behind Matthew's?
Matthew's is culinary driven. All the decisions come from the kitchen. It's a place that duplicates all the things I learned at the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead. I brought all the relationships I'd made. I received food at the back door by Federal Express, UPS and local people harvesting vegetables and so on. My brother and I would sit down and make the menu for the night. It changed daily.