Life of Maine’s Executive Chef Matthew Ginn

Popular Portland, Maine Chef

Recognize this chef?  You should.

He’s Executive Chef Matthew Ginn of Portland, Maine.

He leads the kitchens at both EVO Kitchen + Bar and the Chebeague Island Inn (Open May-October).

Matthew competed on several 2018 Food Network “Chopped” episodes, leaving with a $10,000 prize and a 3rd place finale finish.

In 2015 he was Maine’s Lobster Chef of the Year.

Balance is Key

Matthew’s a married father of two young children. He works 50-70 hours a week. Time management is his greatest obstacle. Unmarried and childless, work was his life. Today, like many, he struggles with work and life balance. “Sometimes I feel like I can’t give either my job or my kids enough; therefore, I am not being as good of a chef or as good of a dad as I could be.” However, Chef Matthew keeps the challenge in perspective:  “A great dish is all about balance, and life is too.”

Tough Love Leads to Kitchen

Matthew abruptly quit college in 2005, coming home to parents who insisted rent start the next day. His prior work experiences all included food: strawberry picking, prep cooking and dishwashing at small restaurants and working in produce and meat rooms in neighborhood groceries. Naturally, he found a restaurant gig.

His calling was gradual. Initially, he was drawn to the energy and speed of a kitchen. It mirrored his past sports competitions, filled with adrenaline and excitement. He began enjoying going to work, “which I think is very rare.”

Four years later Matthew knew he was never leaving a kitchen. The precision, technique and refined plating of fine dining had him all in. “I couldn’t get enough”. Combining an artistic and creative outlet with the speed and physicality of sports hooked him.

New Chefs Listen Up

Matthew knows a ton about what it takes to become a successful chef. “Young chefs are always surprised by how hard it actually is.” Many think in a year or two they’ll be a sous chef.  “That is totally the wrong attitude. You have to put in the work and be ready to make sacrifices.”

  • Say goodbye to weekends, as you know them.
  • Your weekend will be Monday and Tuesday, if you get two days off in a row.
  •  Say goodbye to holidays. Matthew’s worked 6 Thanksgivings in a row and hasn’t had New Year’s Eve off in over a decade.
  • Find a new Valentine’s Day for you and your loved one.

New chefs are often surprised by the wage differences between the front to back of house staffs. “You have to know what you’re signing up for. You don’t line cook for the money. If you are in the restaurant business for the money, you should be a server.”

To be a good cook you need to be

  1. Patient
  2. Hardworking
  3. Humble, and understand
  4. A great dining experience includes good food, warm hospitality and great company. And above all else,

“Know that it’s not what is on the plate that matters, it’s what’s in the chairs.”

5. Find inspiration. Cooking inspiration comes and goes. Matthew looks at old cookbooks, his old recipe journals and even to fellow cooks. He thrives in collaborative kitchens where everyone is encouraged to participate in menu development. “Cooking inspiration is like the tide. Sometimes it’s in and sometimes it’s out. And, there’s not much rhyme or reason for it.”

Adventurous Eaters Wanted

Matthew doesn’t have a favorite food or dish. Instead, he likes what’s in season and when a product is at its best. Like asparagus in the summer. And, he loves the challenge of cooking food people think they don’t like.

Chickpea Fries

The most popular menu items at EVO are tuna and chickpea fries. They’re dishes influenced by the eastern Mediterranean and made with local Maine products in a modern, progressive way. They’re approachable.

“Fries make people more comfortable, even though they are not French Fries at all. They’re actually a technique called chickpea panisse. However, when panisse was on the menu, no one ordered it.” With a name change, it’s now one of the most popular items ordered at EVO.

Making Good Food is Objective. Taste is Subjective.

You don’t have to be a “foodie” to enjoy Matthew’s cooking. In fact, it’s a term and attitude he dislikes. With the growth and popularity of the restaurant and food scene in the past two decades, people’s interest in food and cooking has grown, and will continue to grow.

Matthew acknowledges that somewhere along the way non-hospitality professionals needed to express their knowledge and understanding of the cooking and restaurant world by dubbing themselves, “foodies.” Here is what he sees with everyone now being a “foodie.”

“Making good food is objective. Use the best ingredients and cook the product with proper technique. Taste is subjective.” Some might like bitter things more while others prefer sweets.

“But because you don’t like bitter doesn’t mean the properly cooked broccoli rabe is bad or the grapefruit sorbet isn’t good, because you don’t like bitter. Someone might not be familiar with every ingredient or technique used.

You have to be adventurous. And, I’ve met plenty of “foodies” who are not adventurous.”

Favorites

Matthew wants to cook whatever is your favorite thing to eat. His competitive spirit makes him attempt to make it the best you’ve ever had. In addition, he wants to please you and cook what you want.

I’m in the hospitality business. Making sure guests are happy and leaving ever happier is the name of the game.

As famed chef, Thomas Keller says, “When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.”

Last Meal
His wife is the person he’d choose to cook for if given only one more meal to prepare. “She and I have shared many wonderful meals together over the years and I think it has always been something very special to our relationship. There is no one I like cooking for more.”

Legacy
“If I’m remembered for anything, I want to be remembered for being a good dad. A great chef would be a close second.” Matthew’s wishes are likely to come true.

Recently, his 3-year-old son told him, “thanks Dad, you’re a great chef.” Matthew’s heart rightfully melted as he watched his son enjoy his cooking.

Now that’s what cooking and being a chef is all about.

SHARE this post with anyone traveling to the coast of Maine, anyone working or aspiring to work in the hospitality industry, and all who need work/life balance perspective.

Written while roasting Brussels sprouts and simmering a pot of cauliflower soup in my kitchen. Recipes found under “Recipe” tab (side dishes + soups) on this website.

©Copyright. December 2018. Linda Leier Thomason
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Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.
She specializes in undercover studies of communities wishing to attract visitors for economic impact. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.
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