VICE has been a longtime haunt of Matty Matheson, a heavily tattooed Toronto-based chef who prefers yelling over speaking at a normal volume. In his How-To series on Munchies, he taught us how to make everything from Cheetos mac 'n' cheese (which he ate in a bathtub), to a full-blown Canadian Thanksgiving feast, to his "Guaranteed to Get You Laid" Lasagna.
You might also remember him from Keep It Canada, a Munchies video series where Matty travelled all over the Great White North to places such as Calgary, Prince Edward Island, and British Columbia to immerse himself in food and the culture that innately is paired with it. Today, Canada gets its first look at what Matty has most recently been working on with VICE: a TV show for VICELAND called Dead Set on Life.
In the first season, Matty gets back to his roots by returning to his hometown, but he also checks out even more locations around this country to experience how Canadians around the country cook, eat, and live. We sat down with Matty and his mentor, Master Rang, who also appears in Dead Set on Life, to talk about how their relationship, Matty himself, and the TV show came to be.
VICE: In the show, we meet Master Rang, a close friend of yours and someone we'll see again throughout Dead Set on Life. Can you tell me about how your friendship started?
Matty: He's the guy who helped me when I got into my first kitchen, he was my mentor. He just became that for me: he took me under his wing at Le Sélect, taught me a lot of stuff. It grew from chef, to line cook, to friend over the years, and we've just kept our friendship going and kept in contact and continued to hang. I think he named his kid Matthew because I'm the best.
Rang: Normally you cook with someone and you work together, but for some unknown reason, I got close to Matty. I'm a people person, but he's a really, really special person. In the early days, he'd do a lot of funny things... like he came in late.
Matty: [looks at Rang] No... I was never late!
Rang: But like I said, we became real good friends, like a brother. Not only a coworker, but also like a family.
You guys seem to be kind of unlikely friends.
Matty: Rang is really good for my story and for his story. I showed him my hometown, then he grew up in Saint John's in Newfoundland. He surprised me in St. John's, Newfoundland, then he got to show me some of his part of the province. He got to reconnect with his foster family... It's kind of weird because two guys like us would never be friends.
Rang: [shakes head] No...
Matty: He's some 50-some-year-old Vietnamese guy, and I'm me. It's a juxtaposition between how crazy I am, and Rang's crazy too, really funny, really amazing, and I think us together just makes a really great team. It's this organic thing, and it's not just this recurring thing on purpose, it's us telling really important stories about us and our friendship.
How does food culture in Canada play into your culinary styles and into Dead Set on Life's first season?
Matty: At Parts & Labour, we're using a lot of Canadian products: Canadian beef, Canadian pork, chicken. We're using the product that's available in Canada. I don't use 100 percent Canadian stuff—we're using citruses and olive oils and that kind of stuff—but I think just being in Canada, you're influenced by Quebecois cuisine, you're influenced by West Coast Asian stuff. But being in Toronto, it's really great because you have so much different kind of ethnic groups, and you can pull from a lot of different things: rotis, Jamaican food, West Indian, East Indian, there's a lot of good Japanese, Chinese. Our Chinatown is amazing. I think just having that kind of stuff at our doorstep is an amazing thing to have in a culinary city like Toronto. We have amazing produce, the Green Belt is amazing. I think using Canadian products dictates what we're doing. Rang works in more of a traditional French bistro, so his stuff is a little more classic.
Rang: Yes, it's a typical bistro cuisine. I work at Le Paradis.
Matty: For Rang's type of cooking, it's less about what Canada has; it's more about just French cuisine.
Dead Set on Life starts as an origins story of sorts for you, Matty, so I wanted to ask about your introduction to cooking in your childhood.
Matty: My grandfather was a chef and owner at a restaurant in PEI called The Blue Goose. When we lived in Nova Scotia still, we used to go there all the time—in the summers, in the winters. Just growing up and visiting, my grandfather lived in an apartment behind the restaurant, so being really close to the restaurant was really an amazing thing for me and for my childhood. We would go clam-digging, grabbing oysters, lots of lobster and steak (PEI has amazing beef).
My parents were really good cooks. My dad was always a huge influence on barbeque, grilling, smoking—doing all the technique-driven stuff that I never really thought about until later on. My mom was always really good at cooking: she would make really good breads and stuff like that. She would have a flour mill and would grind her own flour to make bread. But I think we did it out of necessity rather than a cool, hipster kind of thing.[Rang and Matty laugh]
I got accepted to one college, cooking school. I didn't think I was going to be a chef, didn't think I was going to be a cook. I went to Humber College in Toronto in 2000, and I really liked it. I liked cooking—even as basic as working with knives, finding out about the foundation and fundamentals of cooking. I finally got good grades for once—you got good grades if you could cook well. From there, my first job out of college was Le Sélect Bistro, where I met Rang.
Rang: It was the right time, right place.
Matty: It was just kind of one of those serendipitous things. People work in a ton of different restaurants. The very first restaurant I worked at was Le Sélect, which was the best bistro in Toronto.
Rang: It's been there over 35 years.
Matty: Working in that restaurant under Rang really set my foundation with really strong French bistro training, and then me and Rang became friends. I worked there ten years ago from 2003–2006.
In Dead Set on Life's first episode, we see you return back to Fort Erie, Ontario. But, Matty, it seems like you grew up in at least a couple different places. Can you walk me through where you spent your earlier days in before Toronto?
Matty: I was born in Saint John, New Brunswick; lived in Nova Scotia til Grade 3; moved to London, Ontario; lived in St. Thomas, Ontario for a year; then moved to Fort Erie in Grade 5. I went to high school in Fort Erie, then I got kicked out in Grade 9, then I went to Catholic school in Port Colborne, Ontario.
You and Rang return to Fort Erie in the first episode to try some of your longtime comfort foods—like a sub and chicken wings. Tell me what it was like growing up there.
Matty: It's a small border town. When I lived there, it was 16,000 people. There are lots of Chinese restaurants, lots of bingo halls, racetracks. There's a few big factories there that build airplane parts and shit like that, where my mom worked. My dad also had a business there.
There's a big racetrack there called the Fort Erie Racetrack, and I worked at almost like a jockey bar in high school, Southsides, where we go in the first episode. Lots of the bars are jockey bars there, just real small, local bars. We also visit Robomart... My brother lived around the corner from there. Fort Erie is so small, and it was just one of those places that made really good subs and chicken wings. The chicken finger sub is just a really classic thing for me—me and my buddies used to get them all the time. It's literally one of my most favourite things of all time, and I wanted to show Master Rang, then he hated it.
We just bopped around Fort Erie. We met Mr. Gifford, who was my English teacher in high school at Lakeshore. He was one of those cool teachers. He'd tell you to take your headphones off, but he'd be like, "What are you listening to?" He'd want to know what you were listening to; he was one of those kinds of dudes.
You've mentioned that you were a king of the bush parties, can you tell me what it was like parking like that out in Fort Erie?
Matty: Right across from where I grew up on Parkdale Avenue in Fort Erie—now I live in the neighourhood of Parkdale in Toronto, which is funny—there was Ferndale Park and big woods behind that. In that woods, there was a place called the "Honeycomb" where all the kids would go to throw bush parties or have big fights. It was just like the spot you could go to and hang out. I had two brothers, and we're all two years apart, so we had a really big crew. We'd all hang out there, smoke, do drugs, fight... Small town shit: light up fireworks, blow up propane tanks, do a bunch of acid, make out with chicks.
Speaking of partying, you've spoken publicly about how that kind of lifestyle affected your culinary career. I heard there used to be a VICE series called Hangover Cures that you had to rethink when you got sober.
Matty: Hangover Cures was that little weird culty thing that started everything, and when we were shooting that, that was one of my high points of drug use, partying, getting crazy. I started to get clean, and the producer was one of first people I called. I said, 'Hey dude, I can't do this show anymore.' But I really liked doing it: making content, shooting... I just was like, 'Hey man, I want to keep doing this and keep making shows, but I want to take care of myself and figure my shit out.' Then we came up with Keep It Canada.
When we started working on that, it went really well; we banged out a lot of episodes and really found this evolution. Dead Set on Life was born from Keep It Canada: it's more information, it's more about me personally, it has more stories and themes throughout. We have a bigger team too. It's been a very gradual, kind of organic growth—and now we've got Dead Set on Life!
Speaking of the name of Dead Set on Life, where does that come from?
Matty: Brian Richer, who is one of the owners of Parts & Labour and Oddfellows and a really good friend, when I had my heart attack at age 29, we were talking about opening a bar called "Dead Set on Destruction," which is a Hüsker Dü song. We love that song, and it's an amazing name for a fucking bar; we wanted to make the gnarliest bar ever. Then when he came into the hospital to see me after my heart attack, Brian made a joke: "Guess it's Dead Set on Living."
It's also a two-person story because Liam [Cormier] from Cancer Bats, they were writing that album at that time, and they wrote a bunch of songs about me. Liam is one of my closest friends; I used to tour with those guys, and they wrote a whole album called Dead Set on Living.
It's kind of mashed all together, but definitely Brian and Liam were part of it. Then when we were trying to name the show since we knew it was bigger than Keep It Canada, and we were hopefully going to be travelling outside of Canada... What are we going to do? Call it Keep It Asia? Keep It Europe? I was like, 'Fuck man... Dead Set on Life, DSOL.' It's an interesting title for a show, it's a part of me, I can back it 100 percent. It's not a made-up thing where it's just a saying. It's real, I even have a DSOL tattoo I got on my knuckles like five years ago after my heart attack.
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