Etched across the knuckles of Matty Matheson's right hand are the letters DSOL, which stand for "dead set on life."
It's not just the name of his new TV show (premiering tonight at 10 PM on VICELAND, check your local listings for details), but a reminder of a time when, as Matty puts it, he was dead set on self-destruction and Hüsker Dü.
"Right before my heart attack, I was going through this huge Hüsker Dü phase and we were talking about opening a bar called Dead Set on Destruction, which is a Hüsker Dü song. We were like, 'That would be like the sickest name for a bar! We'll make it the gnarliest fucking bar, like something out of From Dusk Till Dawn or Roadhouse. It'll be like the fucking gnarliest!'"
But Toronto's gnarliest bar never saw the light of day. Instead, Matty suffered a heart attack at the tender age of 29, brought on by heavy boozing and drug use. The irony of Matty's Hüsker Dü phase was not lost on his friends. "We were in the fucking hospital room and a bunch of my friends were there and we're all just talking and making jokes, and one of my buddies is just like, 'Looks like you're not going to open that bar Dead Set on Destruction? I guess you're, like, dead set on livin' now?'"
When Matty came out on the other end of the heart attack tunnel, he began the slow, gradual process of pulling his head out of his ass.
"When I was partying, it was massive ego. I was like, 'I want to be the cool guy, I want to be at every party, I want to be at every restaurant, I want to be friends with every chef, I want to be drunker than every chef, I want to be harder and work harder than any chef.' But all that stuff caught up with me. I got my head out of my ass and was just like, 'How do I want to live my life?' Like, now I have actual choices to make on how I want to live my life."
Now, Matty's life is dedicated to not fucking up what he calls his "second chance," and he has become the embodiment of the four letters tattooed on his hand. "I'm going around seeing things I've never seen before. I'm living my life; it's a totally massive opportunity. Dead Set on Life is basically me experiencing things for the first time. And I think that's a big part of my life now. Realistically, I would never have done this show if I kept drinking or living the way I was."
Nor does he feel bound by his title as a chef. "I want to be Matty. I want to do whatever I want to do. I want to open up restaurants—many restaurants; I want to make TV, I want to make Internet shows, I want to travel. I have one life, so I don't want to be just a chef. That's just not me. If I was never called 'chef' again, I'd be OK with that. It's been a year since I've really been in the kitchen. My chef de cuisine Brent runs Parts & Labour."
Needles to say, Dead Set on Life is an exploration of all things extreme. "I fuck with anyone. Like, if you're not an asshole, that's cool, but there's some assholes on the show and we make it look like it turns out really well. I'll hang out with anybody and I'll experience whatever. I'm not afraid of anything. I'll hang out with pieces of shit or people in the fucking middle of Canada flying around in their crazy cars."
Naturally, there is plenty of food being caught, killed, and consumed along the way, from moose hunting with Newfoundland legend Jeremy Charles, to a massive Filipino Boodle Fight in Winnipeg, to cooking gigantic bison côte de boeuf on an open fire on the Canadian Prairies.
Matty Matheson is famous now, thanks in no small part to MUNCHIES' very own series Keep It Canada and his How-To videos. "People definitely recognize me. I'll walk down the street and get stopped six times and people will be like, 'Hey, what's up? What are you doing? Matty, Matty, Matty, Matty, Matty!' People just yell at me on the street and want me to take selfies with them."
And he's not just getting recognized on the streets of Toronto. His flagship restaurant Parts & Labour has become an international destination for legions of fans, young and old. "Just the other day, I had three dudes from Copenhagen come into the restaurant. Then I had a bunch of elderly people come from Germany to Toronto, to visit like a cousin or something, but they were like, 'This is the first stop. We want to take a photo of you in your kitchen, we love your pancakes video, we love all your videos!' It's really crazy."
But this newfound success is not likely to go to Matty's head any time soon. For starters, an ego-induced near-death experience has made him more than equipped to deal with the weirdness of being famous. "Mentally, I'm stronger than ever," he says. The other reason is the presence of someone who is always ready to bring him down a couple of pegs: Master Rang.
Nguyen Rang is a recurring and slightly mysterious character from Matty's past. He's a mentor, friend, and father figure to Matty—the Danny Glover to Matty's Mel Gibson. Rang introduced Matty to pho, showed him how to work on the line, and even named his son Matthew, after his favourite line cook.
But a decade ago, in the kitchen of Toronto bistro Le Sélect, things weren't always so rosy. "He liked being called Master Rang instead of 'chef,'" Matty recalls. "So, we all called him 'Master Rang,' and he was a juggernaut. He would fuck you up. He would scream in our faces and call me 'Fat Boy.' Now, everyone calls me Fat Boy, but I was like 22, and he used to fucking yell, 'You fat fuck, fuck you! Fuck you! Cook, cook, cook!'"
There was a method to Master Rang's madness, according to Rang, at least. "Matty wasn't a good cook at first," Rang says. "I gave shit to him all the time, like army training. I didn't train him like a chef; I trained him like a soldier in an army. I even poked him with hot tongs, like he says in the show. At first, he was slow, but within a very short period of time he became a very good cook and very, very fast for a fat boy like that. [...] I did it because I wanted him to be a success—and it worked!"
Dead Set on Life also provided the perfect outlet to repay his former Master, in a segment that Rang says was significant for both of them. "Matty and I love fatty food and junk food. So every weekend, I used to cook a nice whole crispy fish for him. But in one episode, he brought me into his home with his with wife Patricia to cook crispy fish for me, exactly the way I did it. That was very meaningful."
"In my mind, I'll always see him as a young boy—a young punk who plays hard. But I knew he was smart, I just didn't know if he was going to use it [laughs]. He is more responsible now, he's a family man and a businessman. Matty is a very smart boy, very street smart. But he does it for his family now."
A TV show wasn't the only thing that Matty helped conceive over the last year. In March, Matty's wife Trish gave birth to their first son, Macarthur, whose existence has made him even more focused.
"I can make very clear decisions now because, it's like, 'This is my priority—what's the best thing I can do for this?' I can provide for us now. I'm much closer to being able to buy a house for my family. I want to buy a cottage. We can go on sick vacations. I want to buy Ski-Doos. I want to buy jet skis. Like, how do I get jet ski money? That's what I want to get. My goals have changed significantly in the last like two-and-a-half years."
Turns out fatherhood is more lit than drugs, booze, and being famous combined. "Yeah, it's better than any fucking party; better than anything I've ever done. Better than any amount of cocaine I've ever sniffed. All of the drugs I've ever put up my nose don't even come close to like how I feel—the love I feel. Whatever I was chasing, it was ridiculous compared to what I feel for this kid."