Meet Chuck Matto
"Food should be a memory. You could convey your experiences and your lifetime moments. People should be able to relate to that and know when they take a bite of this, “Oh, this person’s trying to tell me something and I can hear it!”
Recipes From Chuck's Flavor Train
Born to Grill™ With Chuck's Flavor Train
Good vibes, great food, and spreading the love. Flavor packin’, never lackin’!
Now, my background’s pretty straightforward: I was always a fat kid who loved food and loved eating. And it was easy, especially with my adoptive parents: my father’s a proud Italian and my mom’s this incredible, amazing self-taught cook! We grew up big on family. Family’s everything. And we shared a lot of love. They fostered over 50 kids, so I’ve got a huge family out there. And I get it. Not everyone’s got the best family. But you can do what we did: you can make yours. Family’s who you share with. Family’s who you love.
And I bring that love straight back to the food I love. This whole thing really started for me back in December 2016, when my brother got me a Weber Smoky Mountain for Christmas. I’ve gotta tell you, the experience of getting everything set up, lighting that fire… getting that smoker really changed my life. We always shared our food growing up, so I started sharing mine with Instagram and found their whole community. Then came TikTok, where things really started getting wild. Meanwhile, a family friend asks me if I know how to cater. I’d never catered before. “Of course!” I tell him. “Let’s do this!” Afterward, I looked at my wife and said, “This is the dream. This is what I want to do.”
Fast forward to now: my social media’s blowing up, I’ve got my own catering business. Funny how things have taken off, like a train leaving the station! So, I keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve been very blessed that cooking and catering has started to provide me a legitimate path to do so. It’s so gratifying to see those blue checkmarks in my DMs, asking me to cook for private parties — shows me I’m doing the right thing, doing it well, and really connecting out there. But I keep putting the message out there: I’ve got a podcast coming, a YouTube show in the works, and I’m just working real hard at what’s important: spreading good vibes and good food.
Q & A With Chuck's Flavor Train
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way early: your TikTok duet with Gordon Ramsay. Earning his respect is practically half a Michelin Star right there.
Thank you! I’m humbled, I’m shook, I’m shocked! As far as the love from Gordon, that was a big thing for me because I grew up watching — and still watch, with my wife and my daughter if she’s still up — Gordon Ramsay with my dad. He is a true legend to me. As far as getting his respect and accomplishments? Humbled by that.
How’d you learn to cook well enough to impress him in four short years?
Honestly? I really don’t know! I mean, obviously, I learned from my mom. Mom cooked dinner every night, so we always ate together. Mom wasn’t trained; she didn’t go to chef’s school, culinary school, nothing like that — she just knew flavor and how to make things taste good. No recipes, just seasoning. It’s like, “No, just make that food taste good! If it doesn’t taste right, add a cup of this. No? Another half-cup. Make it work for you!”
I think cooking, for men, has lately obviously become fashionable — especially with barbecue. But... growing up? I remember Emeril Lagasse. And then from Emeril, it was Guy Fieri, and, after that, came Matty Matheson. We’re kind of in an era now where you’ve got these rogue folks that like to cook, loud and obnoxious and have fun, and anyone can do it: man, woman, child, doesn’t matter. Have fun, get in the kitchen! So, I think I took the spices and seasoning and the flavoring elements that my mother taught me, and tried to combine it with, you know, just living your life and having fun with the chefs that I related to growing up. That’s one of the things about Emeril, Fieri, Matty Matheson: they’re not buttoned-up classical French chefs. Let’s have some fun, pour some drinks, pop some pinkies, get loud and have a blast!
Taste over technique — clearly, that’s where you come from. And we have to say we agree: who cares if you’ve spent 10 years learning to boil rice perfectly or peel 1,000 perfect potatoes if the taste at the end of it isn’t there?
I completely agree, 100 percent. That’s something you see on these cooking shows. The judges say, “You didn’t do this, you did this when you should’ve done this...” While those guest judges, who don’t know the technique, will be blown away. But then they’ll send that contestant home, saying “You didn’t put cream on your mashed potatoes.” So they used milk instead of cream! Everyone thought it was delicious! Who gives a damn? It’s good food! [Laughs.] I don’t think you have to have a set way to get to the end point — it’s about the end result. If it’s good, who cares about how you got there, you know?
Let’s talk catering. You’ve been seeing great success with your business. What can you tell us about your biggest, baddest cookout?
Oh, that’s a good one. Let’s see… I’ve done team efforts, but the biggest solo effort? Man. Once, I was hired to cook for 130 construction workers. We’re talking 6 beef briskets, 13 racks of ribs, 80 pounds of mashed potatoes, probably 45 pounds of macaroni salad, and 120 cornbread muffins. That was all me — and it was a great gig! Great client, customers were super fun, but it was one of those things when you’re running around a cooler full of resting briskets, thinking “Holy… that’s a lot of food. There’s 145 pounds of brisket in here!”
Wow. That’s a lot of barbecue! With all this amazing food out there, what kept you focused on grilling? What specifically about barbecue really sung to you?
You know, that’s a tough question to answer. Thinking about it now, at least in this current moment, I would honestly say... I think it’s the process. It’s the challenge of trying to get the meat just right. It’s the therapeutic experience of “Oh, it’s just me out here.” Fire! Smoke! Meats! Primitive! It’s different. [Laughs.]
At the end of the day, you’re providing people with life. You can give someone five bucks, and they can spend that on whatever they want. But if you give someone food, you’re giving them fuel for their life! You’re sharing a part of your soul. And something that cooks low and slow, like barbecue generally does, I honestly feel you’re putting your essence into that — giving a part of you to others, and putting it out into the world. I’m all about spreading good vibes, and food is just how I do that. Barbecue is the perfect vessel to spread love. And I’m really drawn to that entire process, start to finish.
What would you say is the most mind-blowing food discovery you’ve made recently? Is there any new cooking style, or combination, or what-have-you that’s pivoted how you do things?
That’s a great question. Lately, I’ve gotten back to basics; that’s not necessarily mind-blowing, but rebuilding your foundation has its uses. Really helps you chill out. With social media, the driving factor is, “Try new stuff! More content, more content, more content!” After a while, it’s like... Nah, let’s get back to the roots.
So, I’ve been making very simple, plainly roasted chickens. Very simply cooked steaks. You know I love to layer flavors — “Oh, we’re gonna brine it here and we’re gonna season it here and apply this, which is gonna be another layer of flavor.” But one thing that’s surprised me is, and this is refreshing to find: when you get really high-quality ingredients, you cook something well, you eat it while it’s hot and fresh: it’s freaking delicious. You put freshly-squeezed lemon on anything hot off the grill, and it’s amazing. You get some high-quality olive oil, and you can taste it. Comparing bottles at the store might go like: “This one’s 5 dollars, this one’s 15, what’s the difference?” There IS a difference, especially in that flavor. I’ve been enjoying the simple things and trying to find that extra punch in the basics. Mind-blowing? No. But reassuring, and comforting... and surprising, if that makes sense.
That definitely makes sense — there’s almost a purity to it.
Right! Exactly. It’s rejuvenating, in a sense. I’ve probably made Aglio e Olio, like, four times in the last 9 days? I’ve been using different olive oils and trying different methods for mixing in the pasta water, just to see. And every time, I’ll tell my wife, “This is the greatest pasta dish ever.” One: it’s so simple. Two: outside of the carbs, which, [bleep] that, I’m not a carb-counter, live your best life… it’s heart-healthy! [Laughs.] Oil. Garlic. Water, minus the pasta. You can put chicken with that! You can put seafood with that! Pork, game meats, you can do so much with that basic pasta dish. Throw some truffle in there, maybe a pinch of lemon, a dash of cream. Such a simple dish but, from it, you can literally take 20 different paths, 30 different paths, and make something different and completely amazing every time.
You’ve mentioned your love of the (BBQ) process. In a snapshot, what’s your favorite part of that process?
For me? It’s evoking emotion. I always tell my wife when I’m serving food, “Watch their eyes.” People will say one thing, whatever, but you can’t fake it when someone takes a bite, and it literally triggers synapses, neurons, you know, your eyes really light up. That’s what I want. You don’t have to tell me a thing. They’re happy? Great! That’s what the meal’s about!
What, then, would you say makes great food truly memorable?
One of the things I’ve preached, and I’m sure plenty have done before me... you have to have a strong personality to be a memorable cook-slash-chef-slash-pit-master-slash-whatever. It takes a strong personality and strong viewpoint and strong experiences: that’s what you remember when you eat food. I’m sure you’ve been to a cookout where someone’s mom made this great dish and you think it tasted awesome. But then so-and-so’s mom at a different cookout comes in like a freaking ball of fire, and it’s like, “Oh good lord, I remember when I ate that it was like getting kicked in the mouth with flavor!” Attitude makes great seasoning.
So, incredible food experiences aren’t just about presentation, they’re about showmanship.
1000 percent! They definitely can be. Whatever the dish is, whoever the chef is, that’s one thing you notice with these people on TV. People don’t even look at someone like Martha Stewart, they say she’s bland, no — Martha Stewart has a very domineering personality. Forget the accent pillows, the vanilla and soft teals and really look at her. I just think she’s very by the book and she’s kind of subdued, but she has a very strong viewpoint and opinion on her food.
Then there’s someone like Bobby Flay. Again, they say he’s strict, serious, quiet. He’s got a very strong viewpoint when you eat his food. Conversely, someone like Gordon Ramsay, who’s going to be a little louder in the kitchen at times — you can tell when you’re eating his food. And that’s the big picture. If you don’t remember someone’s food...? That’s what this thing’s all about! If you’re not remembered, what are you even doing this for? Following a recipe, keeping it super basic and generic, that’s fine! But that’s not what’s going to create lifelong memories.
Is that what makes you so passionate with food? Making those memories?
When you eat my food, I hope at the very least you remember something. I tend to serve my food in chef-style tastings. At the very least I want you, 20 years from now, to be like, “Oh my god! Chuck made this and it blew my freaking mind. It was one of the best meals I’ve had, and you know what? We talked about X, Y, and Z while it happened, we bonded.” Food should be a memory. You could convey your experiences and your lifetime moments. People should be able to relate to that and know when they take a bite of this, “Oh, this person’s trying to tell me something and I can hear it!”
And the experience really tethers to it. The vibes. I’ve got a lot of love to give. A lot of love. I think I’m very privileged and blessed. I’ve lived a great life, and I’m all about doing my bit and paying that forward. We all put something back into the world, and mine’s all about love — if I can do it putting kick-ass food in mouths and big freaking smiles on faces? Awesome! I’m great at that! [Laughs.]