“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity” - Voltaire
The latest edition of CTBites’ “Behind the Scenes” series is brought to you from Match Restaurant in South Norwalk, where Matt Storch, its owner-chef and Westport native, has been at the helm of the kitchen for over ten years overseeing this highly acclaimed restaurant that creatively promotes today’s Farm to Table philosophy.
For those who have never experienced the incredible activity prior to the day’s first customer entering the restaurant, it is a bustle of activity. Chef Matt led us past the floor to ceiling wood burning pizza oven in the back of the dining room and down a flight of stairs to the restaurant’s subterranean kitchen. The staff was already chopping, dicing, reducing stocks, sautéing vegetables and creating many of the side dishes that would accompany Match’s seasonally inspired menu. Chef Matt first escorted us into one of Match’s two large walk-in refrigerators where trays were stacked along one wall holding the prepared braised veal cheeks and Osso Bucco, fresh Escolar, Chanterelles, fresh rolled olive pasta stuffed with goat cheese, raviolis, brined pork porterhouse steaks and puff pastry squares filled with caramelized onions. The other walk-in fridge housed numerous locally sourced vegetables, all removed from their delivery boxes and sitting in pristine tubs, a colorful and enticing sight.
While we discussed Chef Matt’s philosophy in creating each of his dishes, the chef brought out a mandolin, some carrots, cucumbers and scallions. After a quick adjustment to the mandolin he instructed me to slice and julienne the first two ingredients and sliver the darker parts of the scallions, each an essential ingredient for the Porchetta Banh Mi (one of the nightly specials). After carefully slicing the cucumbers and carrots and avoiding the tips of my fingers we enjoyed a few tastes of the recently roasted rolled pork belly. It was delicious with most of the fat rendered off during the three and a half hour slow roast. The chef then imparted some final thoughts on his personal desire to include the salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and savory (umani) elements into all of his dishes.
Each afternoon the “Nightly Specials” are inspired by the chef’s daily purchases. As we looked at the freshly delivered and house-filleted Escolar Chef Matt looked at me and said, “Now we’re going to design tonight’s Escolar Special together…ready?” A combination of excitement and trepidation hit me simultaneously and we turned our attention to the various elements that would be included in the dish.
Escolar is sometimes referred to as “White Tuna,” “Butterfish” and “Snake Mackerel.” It is native to deep, tropical waters and today’s delivery arrived from the North Carolina shores. It is a very oily fish with the flavor similar to Chilean Sea Bass and the texture resembling swordfish. While it is fully capable of standing alone on the plate, the skin does not crisp easily so that textural element would need to come from one of the additional ingredients.
True to Chef Matt’s philosophy we discussed the positives and negatives of various options that would accompany the Escolar. The starch component was the first element to choose and we quickly narrowed the choices to risotto or the freshly arrived peanut potatoes. We decided upon the peanut potatoes to create a lighter dish. Given the winter weather we next decided to add some sweet-earthiness to the potatoes with roasted red beets (plus it added a nice red color). Choosing the bitter element was next. Chef Matt stated “I just hide myself in my walk-in and something will jump out at me.” Today the inspiration came from some fantastic broccoli rabe and we decided to blanche and add to the dish.
As we discussed the “sweet” element, Chef Matt introduced me to two incredible syrups, Saba and Vincotto. Saba is an age-old sweetener that was used regularly in Rome 500 years ago. Vincotto develops its incredible flavor from Italian grapes that have been reduced to create a slightly different flavored sweet syrup. We chose the Saba as we thought it would better complement the flavors of the Escolar. Still searching for the crunchy element, we decided the kitchen would crisp the potatoes prior to plating. The final component was the sauce. We decided to bring all the flavors together and pulverize some roasted beets, added some of the incredible Saba syrup and finish with a little brown butter. The creation of the dish was complete.
Chef Matt instructed us to go upstairs, grab a table and relax and he would start sending some of his other dishes, as well as the Bahn Mi and recently created Escolar. Prior to the dishes arriving Chef Matt oversaw his nightly meeting with the staff where he explained the nightly specials. As we sat and listened to the descriptions of the night’s menu the staff was quick to ask questions so they would have an understanding of each dish.
Over the next few hours Chef Matt brought an abundance of dishes that showcased his culinary philosophy. Included in this display of gastronomic delights were his renowned Carpetbaggers (fried oysters with steak tartar and truffle crema); a delicious Caponata with roasted eggplant, squash, and assorted onions (including my favorite cippolinis); Tuna Tartar and Seared Tuna (almost a deconstructed Tuna and avocado roll with Sriracha instead of wasabi); a delectable Arugula salad with some of the best shaved Parmesan Cheese I have ever tasted; a tasty olive pasta wrapped around goat cheese with roasted beets with more of the Parmesan; Ricotta Ravioli covered in either a light marinara or a braised oxtail and beef ribs; a puff pastry with caramelized onions, a poached quail egg, black truffle shavings and a delicious Yuzu syrup; braised veal cheeks with chanterelles and vincotto syrup; and for the final savory course a seared Foie Gras with blood orange segments and slivered kumquats simmered in a vanilla syrup and hazelnut cake. Each of these dishes showed Chef Matt’s constant dedication to melding many elements into a dish until it reached his vision.
I was the proud “Sous Chef” of our two additional dishes. The Bahn Mi (described on the special menu as Porchetta Banh Mi Style, rolled and slow roasted pork perched on a baguette smeared with hoison and spicy aioli covered with crunch cucumber, carrot, cilantro and scallion) arrived . The pork was scrumptious and the hoison sauce complemented the flavors perfectly. The crunchy cucumbers, carrots and scallions added tremendous flavor and the spicy aioli transformed this into a wonderful upscale interpretation of the traditional Vietnamese street food.
At last our creation arrived; “Pan roasted fillet of Escolar resting on a hash of peanut potatoes with roasted red beets and thyme, with simmered broccoli rabe and a sauce of pulverized beets, brown butter and saba.” The plate looked fantastic. The peanut potatoes were nicely crisped, the broccoli rabe added a nice color to the plate and the Escolar was nicely roasted. The first bite of all the ingredients was very pleasant, especially with the delicious brown butter and saba sauce. It was a great way to end the meal.
Our day of development and evening of enjoyment with Chef Matt Storch and his staff were finished. Being a contributor to the creative process of developing a delicious dish from scratch, using ingredients that are both familiar to me and adding some that I have never heard of was a great experience. I gained a great appreciation for the creativity that is involved, while still staying true to a culinary philosophy.