As executive director of culinary for JOEY Restaurants, chef Matthew Stowe is charged with coming up with dishes that will satisfy diners from Kelowna to Toronto to L.A.
The Surrey native studied at New York’s Culinary Institute of America then worked at Lutèce, a French restaurant in NYC, before returning to B.C. His CV includes positions at Sonora Resort, Cactus Club Cafe, and Joseph Richards Group; another key highlight was competing on Top Chef Canada in 2012, beating out 16 competitors from across the country to win.
Having just introduced new menu items to celebrate the launch of the company’s flagship location in North Vancouver, JOEY Shipyards, Stowe took some time to chat foodstuffs with the Straight.
Going waaay back, where did your interest in cooking come from?
My mother was a great cook. I am the oldest of six, so she cooked for eight people every night. I remember her roasting whole ducks, making curries, doing roast beef dinners with Yorkshire pudding. Dinner was a big deal in our house, and seeing the look on my family’s eyes as dinner landed on the table gave me a lot of joy. I definitely saw at an early age how food can bring people together.
What is it about cooking that you love?
I love the fact that when people go to a restaurant, they are trusting you with a memory. Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, or important business meeting, it’s something that they will remember. Being able to cook and be a part of that, especially when you may not even know the person, to me is very cool.
What did you take away from your experience on Top Chef Canada ?
My biggest takeaway is having relationships with chefs from across this country. I had never been to Toronto before going on the show. I didn’t know any chefs from Newfoundland or Montreal. It was a great networking opportunity, and it was amazing how close you became after a short period of time together. The final four of us (John Goodyear, Danny Smiles, Dennis Tay, and I) had been through a lot and we grew pretty close during that time. Sharing bunk beds also helped, ha!
Any little known facts about Top Chef Canada you can share?
When I arrived in Toronto, the first thing they did was take away my phone, wallet, identification, everything! We were completely secluded from the outside world. We were allowed to call home usually once a week, but they would monitor the phone calls. We weren’t allowed to have any books or recipes. Everything had to be in your head. I was given a notebook after I unpacked. After I met everyone, I went back to my room, sat on my bed, and wrote down a bunch of pastry ratios, simple recipes, and stuff like that. I was able to bring that notebook into each challenge. I still have it seven years later.
Our aggressive USA expansion I thought was exciting, and I loved the idea of working on multiple brands. I like being able to work on a globally inspired menu, because it means I can cook whatever flavour profile I want! There are no limitations or restrictions. We have an exciting year coming up with new locations in Manhattan Beach, Houston, and Miami. It’s a very exciting time with lots of new dishes on the horizon.
What new dishes are you especially excited about?
The dishes I’m working on at the moment are top secret! Some new additions to our menu that I can tell you about are our ceviche [Japanese style, with prawns, lightly marinated salmon, soy yuzu dressing, mango, and serrano chili]. It’s light, fresh, and I love the flavour of yuzu. It’s definitely something I could eat every day. Our new oven-roasted Wild Pacific cod is great as well. It has a delicious, aromatic curry broth; coconut rice; snap peas; and cauliﬂower.
Do you notice differences in what Vancouver diners want compared to those in other cities like Winnipeg or Seattle?
There are definitely some geographical influences. I notice it more down in the U.S. than in Canada. We have two restaurants in California, for example, that obviously have a different climate and customer base, which we take into consideration. Our locations in Seattle are more similar to Vancouver. As we move across the USA, cultural influences and portion size are things we will need to take into consideration as well. What we may consider a ceviche here on the West Coast might be very different than what someone from Miami might look for, as an example.
When you’re not working, you’re...?
My wife, Amber, and I spend most of our time driving our two boys, Gavin and Benjamin, to sports. They play hockey, soccer, and baseball so it keeps us on our toes! It’s fun, though. I played lots of sports growing up, so I’m getting a taste of what my parents went through.