One might assume that chef Matt DeMille was craving the quiet life when he moved from Toronto to bucolic Prince Edward County earlier this year. But the young chef is far from retirement – he’s take up as chef at Pomodoro, an Italian bistro on Main Street in Wellington, Ont. While the pace is slower, being a chef in the country isn’t always the pastoral paradise that city dwellers imagine, DeMille says. His impressive résumé (including stints at Canoe, Parts & Labour and most recently, as chef de cuisine at Enoteca Sociale) doesn’t guarantee him a free ride – his clientele aren’t afraid to tell him if his dishes don’t measure up. In the city or in the country, it’s all about the food – and lucky for Prince Edward County, DeMille is really good at that part.
What motivated you to head to PEC?
Our biggest motivation was to be closer to family. My wife and I are both from the Belleville area. …My wife has always wanted to pursue her own business and we decided that with our family closer by, she’d have the support needed.
I’ve read in a couple of food blogs that your move to PEC is a sabbatical, but it doesn’t sound that way. Are you planning to come back to Toronto?
I never really understood the word sabbatical. It conjures up images of me disappearing into the woods and growing a beard and working on an Amish farm. I mean, who knows what will happen in five to 10 years, but right now I’m really happy. But down the road, there are always possibilities. Maybe Toronto. Maybe Montreal. Maybe Ottawa.
So is life in the country as beautiful as it seems?
Well the grass is always greener on the other side. When we lived in the city, we would come out to the country to slow down and get some fresh air. But now that we live out here, we actually like to escape to the city to get remotivated and see what the newest thing is. The other change is the clientele. You have to cater to a different palate. It’s also truly seasonal. For a young chef who is used to being very busy and always on the go, it’s very different. In the city, you have a reputation, but in the country my clientele doesn’t mind telling me what they think. So I’ve had to become very honest with myself. You have to drop any ego you have and just do good food.
What’s your most satisfying meal?
I’m a big fan of a prime-rib roast. I love eating outside, too. So maybe in the woods eating a prime rib. With roast potatoes and braised greens, like kale and Swiss chard. And some Yorkshire pudding and lots of gravy.
I’ve read you’re a big fan of cookbooks.
I’m starting to believe that my love for cookbooks is a bit of a sickness. They are kind of pouring out of everywhere now. I think I have about 225 of them.
Salumi by Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman. Mugaritz by Andoni Luis Aduriz. David Chang’s magazine Lucky Peach is awesome.
What’s one cookbook every cook should have?
French Laundry [by Thomas Keller]. It goes through all of the steps. It tells you the importance of blanching and shocking and knife skills. The sheer size of the book and the photos and the writing, it really set the stage for all the cookbooks after it.
What’s a technique that all chefs at home should work on mastering?
Confidence. I’ve been working on that in the last few years. And multitasking. And take a classic cookbook and learn all of the basics. You have learn how to dance in the kitchen before you can start experimenting.
The top three tips for cooking for a group over the holidays:
- Keep it simple: Instead of spreading yourself too thin and doing 30 different things, do five things really well. This will also allow you to spend the extra money on better ingredients.
- Ask for help: Who doesn’t like potluck?
- Change it up: Everyone loves turkey, but once in a while switch it up. Roast a ham, serve a big chilled seafood platter or a few different kinds of meat pies.
His favourite holiday side:
Roasted Brussels sprouts. Slice them thinly and and sauté quickly with bacon and rosemary.
Fruitcake: Can it be delicious?
Yes. With lots of caramel, whipped cream, ice cream and coffee.
The best cookies for Santa:
My mom has been making chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies for years. Warm those suckers up for 10 seconds and they’re the best.
This interview has been condensed and edited.