Welcome to the first installment of our Chef Spotlight Series where we were able to catch up with Boom + Batten’s executive chef Matt Cusano. His self-described simplistic, no-fuss, Italian-inspired West Coast-style of cooking focuses on taste over looks. Matt would rather skip the flair and serve you a perfectly cooked and seasoned carrot that is beautiful in its own right rather than one that is unrecognizable as a foam or gel. In other words, his food speaks for itself: you don’t need an education when it arrives at your table, you are simply ready to dive in and start enjoying it. Below, we get to know Matt a little better as he shares insights on cooking and life, and a recipe you can try at home.
Who or what inspired you to become a chef?
Growing up being around my grandparents who are both immigrants from Italy, I was exposed to really good home-grown food from a very young age. They weren’t the sole inspiration for me to become a chef, but there was definitely a seed planted at a young age where I realized how much I loved food and being around what comes with it.
How do you design your menu? How often do you change it?
I design my menu based on many factors. One of the biggest things I take into consideration is the feedback of guests and the staff at the restaurant. You know you have a winning dish when the staff is constantly ordering it for their dinner. When I’m creating a menu, I focus most on creating balance and a diverse menu that has something on it that everyone will enjoy. I try to change the menu seasonally when I have an opportunity to showcase ingredients that are coming into season.
If there were three ingredients you couldn’t live without, what would they be?
Kosher salt, Italian olive oil, parmigiano-reggiano.
If you could dine at any restaurant in the world, where would it be?
La Montecarlo in Rome. No Michelin stars here—just classic Roman pizza served in an alleyway.
Do you see any emerging food trends for 2022?
Well, obviously due to the pandemic we have seen a huge emergence in pre-packaged and to-go food products. I think we will continue to see this push into 2022 with businesses adapting to this style of food service. I think we will see the mid-level dining pocket of restaurants struggle to keep up as popularity grows for two polar opposites in fast-food/casual dining and high-end fine dining.
Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome to become a chef or open your business?
Being a younger chef, age has always been an obstacle for me coming up in the culinary world. Regardless of your skill or experience in kitchens, you will always be judged by your age by those older than you.
What is the best advice you have been given and what is a motto you live by?
Advice: Keep your head down, ears and eyes open, and learn from people better than you. Motto: Time spent, value received.
What is your favourite thing to do on your day off?
Go for a long bike ride or train at the gym, and then watch football with friends.
What’s your current favourite local restaurant to eat at?
The Courtney Room.
What do you love most about your community?
I love how most people know each other in my community. It’s really cool to walk around downtown on a day off and run into a handful of people you know. I also really like how the hospitality industry really supports each other. You’ll see staff from coffee shops, restaurants, breweries, bars, and hotels, all spending time in each other’s establishments. The community is very supportive in Victoria.
Recipe: Roasted broccolini with romesco sauce, ricotta salata, fried garlic + calabrian chili
(serves 4, vegetable side dish)
• 2 red peppers
• 2 fresh tomatoes (whole)
• ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1 small fresh shallot
• 1 clove of fresh garlic
• ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
• 2 tsp kosher salt
• ¼ tsp ground black pepper
• 1 tsp smoked paprika
• 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
• 1 tsp white sugar
• 2 bunches of broccolini with bottom ends trimmed
• 1 cup shaved ricotta salata cheese
• 6 tbsp olive oil
• 10 cloves thinly shaved garlic
• Salt + pepper to taste
• 2 calabrian chilies chopped
- On a baking tray, roast the peppers and tomatoes in a 450F degree oven until the skin on the pepper is blistered and dark.
- Remove from the oven and place the peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Reserve the tomatoes in a bowl uncovered to cool.
- Once tomatoes are cool, gently peel off the skins and discard. Repeat with the red peppers, and then remove the stem and seeds from the peppers
- Combine the tomatoes and red peppers, as well as any juice from the peeling/roasting, with the rest of the ingredients in a blender. Blend on high until smooth and no chunks remain. Reserve.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss the broccolini with 4 tbsp of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Lay flat and even on a baking tray and roast until tender in a 450F oven for approx. 15 min.
- Heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the shaved garlic and cook until light golden and crispy. Remove and drain on paper towel, immediately season with salt.
Spoon a liberal amount of romesco sauce onto the middle of a plate and spread evenly in a circle with the back of a spoon. Stack the broccolini nice and high in the middle of the plate. Sprinkle the broccolini with the shaved ricotta salata, chopped chilis, and fried garlic.
Photos and responses courtesy of Matt Cusano, executive chef of Boom + Batten