There’s nothing like the holiday season to get us thinking about cooking, food and family traditions. We’re always curious to learn what sort of holiday meals our chef friends grew up eating and now make for their loved ones. Matty Matheson is a Canadian chef, known for hosting Viceland’s It’s Suppertime and Dead Set on Life. He is also the author of the New York Times best-selling Matty Matheson: A Cookbook. Francis Lam talked with Matty about the celebratory meals he ate as a kid, and what new foods he is making for the holidays. If you want to live like a true Canadian Maritmer this Christmas Eve – or any time comfort food is in order – you have to make Matty’s recipe for Rappie Pie, one of the dishes he and Francis discuss.
Francis Lam: Congratulations on being a New York Times bestselling author. You get to take that to the grave with you.
Matty Matheson: Thank you very much. It's unreal.
Matty Matheson Photo: Aaron Wynia
FL: It's proof that the world needs its bologna bowls.
MM: Dude! It's wild. I made this beautiful cookbook and everyone instantly gravitates right toward the bologna. I put an inside joke in this cookbook, and people love it. It's a funny thing. You can't control it.
FL: It's your mother-in-law’s bologna bowl. It is several slices of bologna with a piece of cheese and an egg that’s microwaved until it's a beautiful bowl. And it's a complete breakfast.
MM: It is one of the greatest things. It’s like you go to Montreal and you eat at Wilensky's and you eat a fried bologna sandwich. That bowl is just honest; there's no rhyme or reason to it. A mother of five kids had to make a lot of quick breakfasts in the morning and this was it. And then when I had it I was like, “What is this?” The rest is history on the bologna bowl.
FL: You became the honorary sixth kid.
MM: Yeah. I'm a New York Times bestseller with a friggin’ bologna bowl. Anyone can do it, kids. It's that easy! [laughs]
FL: I love this book. I love all the stories about your family, and I want to talk to you about holiday eating. Let's just face it; holiday eating is basically just winter eating. And Canada pretty much invented winter. So, as a Canadian, what are some things that Americans should be eating this holiday season that we don't already?
MM: That’s tough because we're like the bizarro mirror to America, right? We have almost the same landmass, but I believe ours is bigger. We have only 30 million people and you guys have like 300 million. We have the same weird European and North America things. We have turkey and we have sweet potatoes. We have mashed potatoes and broccoli with cheese sauce – or, if you're fancy, mornay sauce. Do you put cranberries in your stuffing? Do you put water chestnuts in your stuffing? Do you put sausage in your stuffing? There's like so many weird kind of things.
FL: It's the same controversies.
MM: I'm from The Maritimes and my parents are Maritimers. In my childhood we had the same Christmas Eve meal my entire life; I've never had something different. For thirty-six years I have had one dish, and it's called a Rappie Pie.
Matty's family recipe for Rappie Pie is so good it may become your new holiday tradition. Photo: Quentin Bacon and Pat O’Rourke
MM: And the Rappie Pie is an Acadian dish that not even a lot of Acadians make. It's a thing that is getting lost. You take potatoes, you peel them, grate them, and squeeze all of the moisture out of them. And then you vacuum pack them and freeze these blocks of potato starch.
FL: You would do that at home?
MM: Yeah. Back in the day, my grandmother would grate potatoes and squeeze them out – in almost like pillow cases – and hang them up in the rafters in the barn. Then you would keep them because once you get them out the moisture they won't ferment. And then you reconstitute it with hot chicken stock or a fish stock or rabbit stock – it depends on whatever you had.
My grandmother is an Acadian. When she grew up eating rappie pie, and it would be made with whatever they had. It might be mussels, salt cod, rabbit, beef shin or chicken, pigeon, or duck. Whatever it was. Our family always had chicken. You make a very gentle chicken stock. You boil a whole chicken and add only green onions - that's it. Not even a lot of salt. Then you take that boiling chicken stock and you reconstitute the potato, almost like a polenta. You stir and stir and stir. And then you take all the chicken meat off and you make it almost soupy. It looks very soupy, this potato mass. You pour that into a baking tray and you bake it. It's almost like a solidified chicken pot pie but with nothing in it except for chicken and potato. It’s a Matheson family thing. I kind of write about it in the book, where I'm from a very white nontraditional Canadian family. We don't have a lot of traditions except that one; it’s our only real food tradition.
We always have that on Christmas Eve, and then on Christmas Day we always had goose and duck. We always thought turkey was for every other lesser holiday. But for Christmas we always had roasted duck or roasted goose. Even last year, we smoked some ducks. I made a glaze with some cognac, some whiskey, some orange juice, and some hoisin – I just used whatever my parents had.
Now I like to do nontraditional stuff. Two years ago, I just made larb. We just had a giant larb feast. Which was super funny. I was just like, “Why don't we do this?” And my parents were like, “Okay!” because they trust me.
Matty Matheson: A Cookbook
by Matty Matheson
FL: One thing that I read in your book that I want to make for my holiday table, hopefully this year, is your dad's lobster bisque. It sounds bananas. Reading the recipe, there are plot twists in that recipe. You're like, “Whoa, where did chicken stock come from? Caramelized vegetables? These aren’t things that go in a normal lobster bisque!” Tell me about your dad's lobster bisque.
MM: It was a big day when he would do that. It was a special day because we didn't have a lot of money to buy the lobsters and we were landlocked in Ontario. So, it was a really nice day. The recipe is a big cooking recipe. It was an all-day kind of thing for my dad. It’s one of those things where you watch your parents enjoy doing something. I think that's something I maybe didn't write about too much in the book, and now I'm just thinking about it. Just watching your dad be very happy with himself is one of those true, honest cooking moments. I think that's one of the nicest things where dads are always on the grill or they usually have their one or two moves that they pull out.
My dad's a very good cook. But the lobster bisque is something he took pride in. It was technique-driven. My dad's an engineer and he's a very intelligent guy; he's one of those guys that reads everything and retains it. I always felt kind of dumb around him. I think of watching him make the lobster bisque growing up, and then going to cooking school, and then helping him. Now I can whip up that lobster bisque way faster than him because he'll do it and it will take forever, and I can make it in a couple of hours. He'll wake up in the morning at six, and it’s going to take him 12 hours to make a friggin’ lobster bisque.
That's the cool thing about food and food memory. Like how you always have these little pockets and things just drop. It's like this sand sifting and you open up a little crack and some different sand comes down. I think the one thing about that lobster bisque is just seeing my dad be really happy with himself and being present and watching him. A lot of dads work really hard and a lot of families work really hard; he was just always that guy. For him to have that whole day to himself making a creamy lobster soup is funny actually.
FL: But it's also beautiful.
MM: It is. It's okay to be beautiful and vulnerable – and be a man.
FL: Matty, you're beautiful. Thank you for talking with us. Happy holidays.
MM: Absolutely. Happy holidays to you. Ho, ho, ho.
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Francis Lam is the host of The Splendid Table. He is the former Eat columnist for The New York Times Magazine and is Editor-at-Large at Clarkson Potter. He graduated first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America and has written for numerous publications. Lam lives with his family in New York City.