It’s been nearly three years since Matthew Stowe was named Top Chef Canada in the season 3 finale of the Food Network’s popular show. Stowe graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and interned at New York’s famed French Restaurant, Lutèce. Today, he’s a product development chef for Cactus Club with dreams of one day opening his own restaurant. The chef, family man, cookbook author and Surrey native took time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
We’d love to know how it all began! Where did your love of food originate from and how was it fostered?
There were two people who had huge influences on why I became a chef. I grew up in a home with great food. My mother was an excellent cook and seeing the impact that food made on people was very inspiring. I am the oldest of 6 so cooking for 8 people every night is no easy feat. Secondly, I went to high school at Lord Tweedsmuir and they had a chef training program. I originally took the course so I could survive when I moved out on my own (I wanted to be a sports broadcaster). I quickly learned to love the environment of a professional kitchen and the instructor, Guy Ethier took me under his wing and really inspired me to pursue it as a career.
Can you tell us what it was like to grow up in Cloverdale?
I really couldn’t have thought of a better place to grow up. My parents were big on putting us in organized sports at an early age so I played hockey, soccer and baseball in the community. Having great schools in the community also had a huge impact. I went to elementary school at Cloverdale Elementary (now Cloverdale Traditional School) and like I said above, Lord Tweedsmuir. I think having a high school that focuses heavily on trades is an excellent resource for students.
What was a favorite childhood dish growing up?
I loved my mom’s Roast Beef dinner. She made the best Yorkshire pudding! We would have it often, especially when grandparents or other family was over. Food isn’t just about the food you are eating but who you are enjoying it with. I remember Roast beef dinners always brought our family together.
Did your parents ever let you experiment in the kitchen?
Yes my mom always let me help her out from a very early age. I remember one time I was home alone (which was rare with 5 brothers and sisters). I was probably around 12 and we didn’t have any bread in the house. I found a recipe and made a baguette from scratch just so I could make a sandwich.
How did it feel to win Top Chef?
It was obviously very exciting once it happened and it was a tough secret to keep from everyone for almost 8 months. I had watched the first 2 seasons at home with my wife, Amber and I remember thinking that if I was accepted onto the show I thought I had a good chance of winning based on what I had seen. Honestly, when I left for the show in Toronto I was very nervous. It helped getting off to a good start winning the first two challenges. My confidence started to grow and I became more and more comfortable with everything. I won a record amount of challenges and I thought I was pretty consistent throughout.
What’s it like being on reality TV?
It was definitely different having cameras around all the time, especially outside of the kitchen. I remember waking up in the morning and a camera guy would be standing over me. During the cooking challenges I was always so focused and under the gun that I never had time to notice them, which was nice. When the episodes would air, it was always a bit nerve-racking not knowing how they would be edited and what footage the producers would use. Overall, it was a lot of fun watching how the season unfolded.
What have you been up to since the show wrapped and you won the title of Top Chef Canada?
I have been working with Cactus Club as their product development chef. We had a very busy year launching new locations in Calgary and Toronto. I have done a lot of endorsement work as well with brands like Wolf Blass Wines, Glad and Ford Lincoln.
What would be your ultimate career dream?
I would love to open my own restaurant somewhere out in the Fraser Valley and showcase the beautiful products that are coming from the farms in and around the area. Celebrating the hard work that our farmers and food producers put in and cooking for local people in the community where I grew up has always been a dream of mine.
Who does the cooking at home? Does your wife get treated to amazing home cooked meals every night or do you like to take a break when you’re at home?
My wife is home with our two boys, so she has been handling a lot of the cooking lately and she has definitely improved. She even made me roast beef and Yorkshire pudding the other day. It was excellent! I still cook for her and friends once in awhile, but she would probably tell you it’s not often enough!
How do you feel about Surrey’s culinary scene?
It is definitely growing. Having Vikram Vij open a restaurant in Surrey a couple of years ago is a good sign of things to come, and how our city is evolving when it comes to food.
What are your favorite places to eat in Surrey?
I like eating at Tap in South Surrey, My Shanti, The Vault and of course Cactus Club.
What tips would you give an aspiring chef?
Try and work in a kitchen where you are the least experienced person. That way you can learn from the most amount of people. Keep your head down and work hard on your craft, take the time to learn the foundational skills that will make you successful later on. The biggest thing is be patient. It seems like the millennial generation wants everything now, now, now and in cooking repetition and attention to detail is what is going to lay the groundwork for a successful career, but it takes time.