Chef Spotlight: Chuck Matto (Chucks Flavor Train)
Grill master, lover of life, and self-proclaimed “fat kid,” Chuck Matto is burning up social media with tips and recipes for everything BBQ related. (And he’s just started a journey into baking.) With a huge personality and a passion for spreading love, he’s become a favorite for foodies and novices alike. He sat down with Dalstrong to talk about his pet peeves, his favorite cooking hack, and why he puts family first.
You have this awesome Instagram presence with a ton of amazing food tips (mostly meat), but on your profile description the first thing that is listed about you is “family first.” Can you talk about that?
Absolutely. I was adopted at 8-months-old. My dad is a proud Italian and my mom calls herself a mutt (a combination German, Spanish and other things.) A year later my parents adopted another Black girl, my sister. My parents did foster care for over 50 children, so I have a huge network of “unofficial” siblings. My adoption was open, so I’m close to my biological family. To me “family” doesn’t necessarily have to be blood. It’s the people you love who are always in your life. That’s everything. So that’s why I say “family first.” I’m aware that not everyone has a great family. But you can make one. As long as you have that love in your heart, you’re going in the right direction.
It seems like you grew up with a lot of different cultural influences. How does that affect your cooking?
I had a lot of influences that impacted how and what I cook. I have an appreciation for everything. Italian sauces, fresh salads, braising meat, Mexican food. I really love Asian food, which inspired Chuck’s Chow Mein. The beautiful thing about growing up in the Bay Area was I was influenced by so many different cultures. It’s all I know. I can’t see America as anything other than a true blend of all cultures. You see that in food, the blending of culture. We can argue and disagree about a lot of things, but one love we all share is food.
You create a lot of posts with your daughter. What does she think of your food? Is she a tough critic?
I wish she was a tougher critic! She loves everything. I just edited a video, where I gave her a bite of brisket. She immediately said “MORE MEAT”! She loves everything. She has a little toy gas grill that she plays with. It talks to her, and she pulls it around the house copying what I do. She’s my cheerleader and biggest fan.
You show some killer recipes and cooking tips, but also talk a lot about spreading love. What’s the connection between food and love for you?
It goes back to growing up with a big, open family. We always had dinner together. My brother would always come home from college to make it in time for dinner. My sister who lives a half hour away, always showed up in time for dinner. We had an open door policy in our neighborhood, so kids would always come over for dinner. Food is life, it brings people together, it’s a communal experience. Someone is putting a piece of their heart and their culture out there for you. They’re giving you life and love. There are a lot of divisive things happening right now, but the one thing that I always point out on social media is that we follow each other. We connect. That means something. Being adopted, and having such a diverse background, I can’t comprehend racism and bigotry. If someone can do that for no reason, why can’t you just love everyone for no reason. Just spread love. We can always find common ground with food.
If you’ve had a long day and you’re exhausted, what’s your go-to, “make perfect every time” recipe?
The easiest is a roast chicken. It’s classic. It cooks for like 45 min - 1 hour. The leftovers keep well.
Do you have this recipe on your Instagram?
What’s your favorite kitchen hack?
Using acid for keeping your greens green. Blanching your artichoke or asparagus in lemon, lime, or vinegar. Boiling it in acid will keep it green. Kind of petty, but it’s good to keep things looking sexy and beautiful.
Are there kitchen tools you can’t live without?
I’m obsessed with my Gladiator Barong. It’s so bad ass. It turns heads and performs well. Some knives look good, but don’t work well. This one is a perfect mix of everything you want in a knife — performance and balance. I’ve used them in so many videos already. Having a sharp knife is key. It’s so cliché, but a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife because people press too hard.
What are three things every kitchen needs?
A gas stove is key, better heat distribution. If you sear a steak and the smoke alarm isn’t going off, you’re not doing it right.
A high-quality cutting board. And I mean a heavy-duty wood board. Not plastic, they’re not big enough, too lightweight. You can also present with a wood board and serve on it. They’re decorative and functional. So simple.
A food processor. It saves so much time dicing onions, making sauces and purees. You don’t have to be an expert to use it. Who wants to chop six onions? No one.
Do you have a favorite new recipe or kitchen discovery?
Sourdough bread. I’ve got a video about it. What I love about baking is it's more of a science, and it balances a lot of the meat dishes I do. Cooking meat you can cheat. You can’t with baking. It’s a challenge for me.
Who are your cooking heroes and why?
First is my mom. She tried to marry my dad at 16, but they weren’t allowed. So they got married at 17. She didn’t have a lot of technical skills, but cooking for our family growing up, she always made it work. She was self taught. Even if she was cooking from a can, she always focused on flavor. Most of what I know about flavor I learned from her, and that’s what inspired “The Flavor Train.” Not just with cooking but with bringing people together.
Emeril Lagasse. With him, if you weren’t saying “take it up a notch,” you weren’t cooking. He’s this big, fat, sweaty guy and I could identify with him. So much personality. He made cooking cool. He’s a rock star.
Canadian chef Matty Matheson. He was in a band, was a huge party animal, and had a heart attack. It changed his life, and he’s sober now. He yells in the kitchen, he’s all tatted up, wears underwear while he cooks. He’s about breaking boundaries. There’s a lot of tradition in cooking, and I respect tradition. But if nothing ever changes, we can’t grow. While honoring tradition, I still put my spin on it and add my personality.
Is there a spice you secretly hate?
Saffron. In certain doses it’s ok. A lot of people use too much. It should be a note, not the focus.
What’s the one dish or method that people usually screw up?
The one I see the most is people not cutting meat against the grain. With a tri-tip or brisket, you must cut against the grain. You can pinch it to see the grain well, and then cut across the lines, breaking the structure to make it tender. I saw someone recently — a professional — who cut with the grain. I couldn’t believe it. Now it’s going to be tough and chewy. It drives me crazy. It’ll ruin a piece of meat.
What would your last meal be?
Oh, I’ve already thought about this. I’ve always been a fat kid and I embrace it. I’m going all in. I would start off with steak and lobster, then move to a rich ragu pasta, follow with fresh chow mein, and end with lemon surprise pudding. And wash it all down with a glass of Hennessy.
If you could cook a meal for one person (not a friend or family member), who would it be?
Donald Trump. It might seem crazy, and maybe I’ll get shit for saying this, but I’d like an opportunity to learn his thought process. I don’t hate him, but I can't understand him at all. Just maybe sharing a meal, we could connect on a human level.
When you’re not in the kitchen or in front of the grill, where are you?
In my garden with my daughter. I love growing tomatoes and herbs. There’s nothing like spending time with my daughter, planting, eating tomatoes off the vine. She never wants to stop eating them, and I just can’t say ‘no’ to her. My parents live in Napa, so I spend a lot of time with family. I might be boisterous online, but I’m low key in real life. My favorite thing is just being mellow, safe, and secure with family.
What are you cooking today?
Pork loin. I wanted to brine in this morning, but ran out of time. So I’ll cook it hot and fast and add a fruit salsa for texture and flavor. I like to get in all the colors, add some avocado and tomato. I love my meat, but it’s important to balance it.
What’s your best advice for people just starting out with cooking?
Just cook and have fun. People are going to tell you all kinds of shit to do. There are chefs out there who have never been to culinary school or have been fired from restaurants who are making names for themselves. Whether you like steak, pasta, vegan, just do what you love and be happy. Enjoy all of it. When I started sharing my videos on social media, I had no intention of creating a huge following. All I ever want to do is make people happy and share what I love.