By Jason Stutes, ShoppersChoice.com, LLC.
Who is Chef Tony?
For the past 4 years, Chef Tony Matassa has been creating mouth-watering recipes and entertaining, yet informational videos for BBQGuys and ShoppersChoice.com. Starting with just a camera and an idea, Chef Tony put it on himself to learn the art of video production to enhance the look and feel of the BBQGuys brand. Today, with more than 500 recipe, demo and how-to videos under his grill belt, Chef Tony has become a true master of both the BBQ and the video camera.
With both the duty of creating recipe ideas and shooting the video spots as well as editing, Chef Tony is understandably an extremely busy individual. Fortunately, I was able to sit him down for a few minutes and have him answer a few questions for the first in hopefully a long series of "Around the Grill with a BBQ Master".
Q&A with Chef Tony Matassa from BBQGuys
1) You actually got your start as a chef in restaurants in Southeast, Louisiana. Tell us about your background.
My parents had two Italian restaurants, the first of which they opened the year I was born. I grew up stirring the pot, literally. From the time I could stand on a chair and reach the top of the stove, I was cooking. By the time I was in college, my parents closed their restaurants and I began working for various chefs in the area; the most notable, Chef Joey Distefano. After college, I worked several years as a Food and Beverage Manager for Richard Oil. After four years, I left Richard Oil to follow "The Dream"; I became Executive Chef/General Manager of "My Restaurant", Pier 13 On The River.
Before coming to BBQGuys.com I trained with classical French Chef, Chef Gerard Hemery at Bernadette's fine dinning restaurant in Burnside, Louisiana. Chef Gerard is a one of a kind character, a real old school French chef, the kind you usually only read about. He taught me many very old school techniques and methods that I had previously only read about and practiced on my own, in my home kitchen.
2) How did you get your start in the BBQ industry?
I met Mike Hackley, the owner of BBQGuys.com one evening in my restaurant and invited he and his guest to stay after closing to hang out. We became friends and a couple years later he contacted me about doing some recipe videos for his website. I have to say, in the beginning I was very skeptical that my recipes could help him or his website at all. Before that time, I had only grilled on commercial equipment and the only BBQ grill I could remember was the piece of junk my dad used when we were kids. I didn't want to let a friend down, but I couldn't imagine grilling some of my favorite recipes on a piece of junk BBQ grill.
Mike convinced me to try it out with him one Saturday in one of his warehouses and immediately, my mind went from, "I feel like I'm wasting my friends time" to "this is a chef's play-land and I think we could go far together!". The gas grills I saw were reminiscent, if not even better, than some of the finest commercial equipment I had ever seen; and the kamados, he had one of every brand in a line just waiting for me to grill. This would mark the day that I became a true "BBQGuy", and I haven't looked back since.
3) Where do you come up with your BBQ recipes?
The recipes usually begin as an idea/dare from a friend, or comment from our other videos; or me craving a certain item I used to cook in my restaurant life. From there the science and idea phase begins, followed by testing and hopefully videoing. It usually takes about three weeks from aha to "more please".
4) You test & demo a lot of BBQ Grills. What makes a BBQ grill great? What features do you look for?
Even controllable heat, paired with a medium to large grill is the first thing I look for in a grill. This is the standard for a really good grill to become great. I then look for quality construction, well polished, which will be easy to clean, and finally I like to make sure that it can achieve really high temperatures and really low temperatures -the great ones can go from high to low and low to high quickly. If I sear incredible steaks for my guests, I like to be able to drop the temp quickly to prepare their dessert while they eat. No one wants to have dessert thirty minutes after having a meal.
5) Besides grilling, you also do a lot with online video. What's it like being the man in front of AND behind the camera?
It's the ultimate in creative expression, sometimes very stressful, but at the end of the day very rewarding. You have to have split-personalities. Chef personality - When your food is almost perfect and you don't want to leave it's side; it's also the perfect video shot, so your Dr. Jekyll has to summon you over to the video camera while leaving the delicate morsel behind. In the end it usually works out and you have an incredible meal and great footage to share with the world; what more could any food lover ask for?
6) Do you ever make any of your recipes at home? What's the most common thing you cook when you're "off-duty"?
I make most of my recipes at home as well as on the job. The most common thing I cook "off-duty", would have to be Italian food. Veal Piccata, Osso Buco, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chicken Parmesan; just to name a few.
7) You proposed to your girlfriend (now wife) on video. What kind of response did that get?
I still can't believe the large positive response we received from my proposal video. I just wanted to film it in my studio because I spend most of my time in the kitchen and it is sort of who I am. It turned out, everyone else thought it was a wonderful idea and the comments began pouring in. As for my wife, she checked the video daily and would text me with new view totals and comments. Pretty unbelievable, how many people took their time to extend a congratulations.
8) Do you prefer gas or charcoal when grilling? What's your favorite grill to cook on?
Bonus Question! Besides yourself, who would you consider to be some of the best in the industry and why?
1) Big Jim Stancil -I worked along side of him while serving a few thousand people at the Jack Daniel's BBQ Invitational and he never missed a beat. That deserves respect in my book.
2) BBQ Pit Boys -These guys are always up with what their fans are looking for, I wish I were able to turn out quality videos as fast as they do. For that I look up to them.
3) Steven Raichlen -I may not always agree with his chosen method for any particular item but you have to give it to him. The man exudes BBQ!