Chef Spotlight: Executive Chef Todd Matthews of CLEO at Mondrian Park Avenue
Todd Matthews is the Executive Chef of Cleo Restaurant & Bar by In Good Company (IGC) Hospitality Group.
Matthews grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a former culinary school drop out turned Executive Chef. Todd moved to New York five years ago, and started with an overnight line cook job in a hotel on 57th and Broadway to make ends meet. Quickly he turned into the pasta guy making all the fresh pasta every night, which he loved. "To be alone in a kitchen blasting my music and making fresh pasta, you can't get a job much better than that." About a year after he was asked to be a sous chef and has been working his way up ever since. He currently happily resides in Brooklyn with his lovely girlfriend, Chloe and their cat named Bob Marley.
Broadwayworld.com had the opportunity to interview Chef Matthews about his career and Cleo.
What was your earliest interest in cooking?
When I was 15 years old, I got my first job in a kitchen, starting as a dishwasher. The restaurant was in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina- a little place called, Sugar Magnolia. The owners and chef were huge Grateful Dead fans and so much fun to be around. I remember all the noises and smells, clanking of pans, loud music, and the smells of real cajun cooking. I would run on the line and grab the dirty sauté pans as fast as I could while watching the chefs cook. I would always ask questions on my way back and taste the leftovers. I remember trying to guess what was cooking in the pans through smell as I washed them. It just excited me to come to work. All the burns, sweat, tears, and LOTS of shouting.
Who were some of your career mentors?
There was one specific mentor that really stood out and taught me to have fun with cooking. He taught me to never stray away from what you are feeling on the inside and express it through the food you cook. His name is Thomas Marlow. Thomas is an amazing Chef and showed me how to cook; NO shortcuts or hacks.
What culinary styles have influenced your career?
I grew up in the South, so I absolutely love Cajun and Creole food. This style of cooking will always be number one in my heart. Before I moved to New York in 2015, I taught myself how to make fresh pasta and fell in love with it. It is very therapeutic, and peaceful. It's a nice escape from the chaos of a kitchen. My pasta skills have only grown in the past 5 years and I do not plan to stop.
What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef? Attitude, always treat everyone with respect, it doesn't matter who you are. Yes, I am the boss but I am no better than my sous chefs or kitchen staff. The attitude I bring in every day to work shines on all the staff, in hopes to make them have a great day and keep them coming back for more.
What is your favorite meal?
Crawfish stuffed hushpuppies, braised collard greens with smoked ham hock, with a side of cornbread. And of course, Dominos pizza.
Tell me a little bit about your restaurant for our readers.
Cleo is a Mediterranean restaurant with a North African flair, with traditional dishes from Lebanon and Morocco. The dishes are mostly fish-based with a lot of seasonal vegetables. We use a lot of unusual spices most people have never heard of. We have a very creative flair on our pasta and it is all made in house. The restaurant itself has a very warming and intimate vibe in the evening.
Cleo Restaurant & Bar is located at the Mondrian Park Avenue, 444 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016. For more information, menus, and to make a reservation visit https://igchospitality.com/restaurants/cleo/ or call 646.948.2370.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of IGC Hospitality