Chef Spotlight: Matthew H. (thehungryhussey)
A true southern gent, Matthew Hussey describes himself as a homebody with roots like an oak tree. He started cooking as a kid to help out when his mom was recovering from surgery and has been in love with it ever since. He sat down with Dalstrong to talk about his early education with PBS cooking shows, his time working after school at a fish camp, and why overcomplicating mac and cheese really pisses him off.
Tell me about your background. How did you get started cooking?
I’m a homebody. I have deep roots like an oak tree. I have southern roots and started cooking early in life with my mom. I lost her five years ago, and she was a big part of my life. She was a strong-willed southern woman. She’d fight a man close-fisted, and carried a knife in her pocketbook. I know grown men who wouldn’t cross my mama, but she was also a sweetheart. She was well-known and loved. She had surgery on her neck when I was a young kid. My dad was a long-haul trucker, and we didn’t go out to eat back them. You just cooked at home. She couldn’t lift things very well, so I helped her. We didn’t have cable TV, so I watched cooking shows on PBS and got really into it. I didn’t have all the right ingredients, but I slung it together to simulate what I saw. It just grew from there.
Were there other influences on your cooking journey?
When I was a teenager, I started working after school at a fish camp making fried fish and hush puppies. I worked there for eight years and put myself through school. I learned a lot. There was a Greek guy there who liked me. He took me to his buddy’s restaurants and invited me over to meet his family. He had a big impact on me. Man, those guys can cook. They taught me from the beginning. The key to good food is good ingredients and fresh is best. If you’re in the industry, it’s also about service. I’m a geeky kind of guy, really into computers and electronics. He wanted me to run a restaurant for him, but I wanted to do my own thing. I always loved cooking though and never stopped. I’m the main cook in the family, and primary cook for my wife and kids. I started experimenting on my own, BBQing and cooking on my two Big Green Eggs. I cook a lot on a Blackstone griddle (looks like a Waffle House griddle). I like cooking on different things. I feel like that’s how I show my love. I’m not really affectionate, but I express my love through my cooking. I like to make people feel good. And I love the compliments.
What’s your best kitchen hack?
I do a homemade garbage bowl for end pieces or whatever. I take a grocery bag, make it into a liner and just toss stuff in the bowl. Saves time and it’s less messy.
Do you have a favorite new recipe or culinary discovery?
I’ve got a two and a half year old and an almost seven year old, and they love burgers. I fix these kid-friendly sliders for them. Sliders on a brioche. I mean, I could fix big burgers and they’d love it. Shoot, they’d eat it up. Mac and cheese is always a favorite. In general, my go-to that people love is steak. It seems generic, but I have my own methods. I dry it a little bit and have my own seasoning process. It’s a labor of love, but people love it. We also love Mexican. I do a lot of tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas.
When you’re not in the kitchen or grilling, where are you?
I’m playing with my kids. I like to be really engaged with them. My dad was a long-haul truck driver and was gone a lot when I was young. I wanted to be home with my kids. I also like spending time in my garden and just being at home. The kids love the beach, but I prefer to be at home. I also like photography. Wish I could do more of that. That’s how I got into what I’m doing with my cooking channels. I started with still shots, now I love videos. I love getting out and shooting nature, visually and artistically.
Is there a spice you secretly hate?
Yes. Cloves. There’s no reason for them.
Are there kitchen tools you can’t live without?
Absolutely. There are things I definitely need. First is my Shogun 7” Santoku. I had previously used another brand, which was fine, but the Dalstrong knife is just superior. I love the handle, how it feels when I hold it. I’ve got big hands. It’s like a camera, it has to handle well. This one just feels the best in my hand. Structurally the width and height just feels good and solid when I use it. I also couldn’t do without salt and a good pan.
Who are your cooking heroes?
My Greek buddy at the restaurant I told you about. His name was Evans. For famous people, Tyler Florence. He’s a real dude. He reminds me of myself. I don’t worship him or anything.
If you could cook a meal for one person, who would it be?
Vivian Howard. She’s a local chef I follow. I don’t know if I would cook for her, but I'd love to talk to her. Pick her brain. She’s southerner, too, and a four-time semifinalist for James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southeast. We’ve eaten at her restaurant Chef & Farmer in Kinston, NC. Her show A Chef’s Life on PBS combines higher end cooking with a rural environment. She turns southern basics into delicacies (collards, pinto beans, etc.) She really brought that to the forefront of big time cuisine. I’d just like to cook together maybe.
What is the one dish that everyone seems to screw up?
Mac and cheese. People want to over complicate it and get too cute. Adding mustard, not necessary. Put bread crumbs on top, no. In my eyes, that’s taboo. I’ve heard people say “You should’ve put a fried egg on it.” I’m like “Shut up!”
What’s one thing all great chefs should have?
Passion. I think you can be a great chef with skills, but you’ve got to have a heart. That’s true with anything, really. When you talk to people, you can tell right away if someone’s passionate when they start talking about it.
What would be your last meal?
Country style steak, mashed potatoes, green beans (with fatback), slaw, and some kind of bread (cornbread or biscuits).