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Member on the Menu: Chef Matt Heimbauer
RAMW Member Spotlight: Chef Matt Heimbauer
BIO: Matt Heimbauer knew he wanted to be a chef as a teenager. After a childhood of helping out in his grandmother’s Italian deli and working in kitchens in high school, he only needed to apply to one college: the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York. There he earned his Bachelor’s Degree, taking time to do an apprenticeship in Piemonte, Italy, where his love of Italian cooking only grew. After graduating from CIA, he worked for Todd English at Olives, where he worked his way up from line cook to executive chef. In 2014 he began working for Mindful Restaurant Group as their Corporate Chef, where he now oversees the kitchens at each of the eight locations. At home, Chef Matt loves cooking vegetables, especially those he grows in his home garden. He is a D.C. United season ticket holder and takes his daughter Liliana to almost every home game.
What is the hardest part about being a chef?
Balancing work and family life is 100% the hardest part. When you work long hours, weekends and holidays, you miss a lot of family time. To say my wife is very understanding is an understatement. Her and our daughter spend plenty of nights without me.
Work can be challenging but never hard. I feel lucky to be in a career that I love, and as my sous chef Dan says, “we get to play with food”.
…and the most rewarding part?
Even more so than creating a great dish, it’s the connection and relationships I get to make with my coworkers. I’ve always felt like when you’re part of a restaurant, you're part of a big family, a family of many different personalities, backgrounds, ethnicities and rich cultures. We all learn a lot from each other.
Where do you look for inspiration when putting your menu together?
To put it simply, everywhere; my past travels and experiences, my childhood, books, magazines, conversations with colleagues, and especially the weekly produce lists I receive from farmers.
How is your menu influenced by the neighborhood it is located in?
As Corporate Chef, I oversee 5 kitchens in very different locations throughout DC. Ari, Mindful’s owner, has done a great job of tailoring successful concepts to each neighborhood, and this has made my job easier.
We have both Acqua al 2 and Harold Black in Capitol Hill. Acqua al 2, a classic Tuscan pasta and steak restaurant, and a celebrated speakeasy in Harold Black, that are a perfect match for the politico clientele, and longstanding Washingtonians that live in the neighborhood. On 14th street, Ghibellina, a casual Italian gastropub, caters to the young professional demographics with a great bar and comforting affordable Italian fare. Below Ghibellina is Sotto, my personal favorite, because of the live music (no cover charge) offered every night. We offer more of a small plate menu, where we get to veer away from Italian flavors, and put together a fun little menu with no restrictions on flavor profiles. Our newest voyage is into the Ivy City section of DC, we have 3 locations in the Hecht’s warehouse that all attract the many different faces of this working class neighborhood. Who doesn’t love a classic diner (Ari’s DIner) or a Mexican restaurant with authentic flavors (La Puerta Verde) or a soccer centric sports bar (Dock FC).
How did you get started in the business? What was your first job in the industry and what did you learn from it?
Growing up in an Italian American family in NY, you tend to spend a lot of time around the kitchen table. Either my mother’s or my grandmother’s, I was always the first at the table and the last to leave. This attraction to food led to 2 important jobs while in high school. First, I was a short order cook at a local diner. It was a small mom and pop institution, where all I had was a flat top, steam table and deep fryer. Working the line by myself I learned the real meaning of multitasking. At the same time I worked summers at an upscale country club, where I learned there was so much I don’t know about food and it left me craving to learn more.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I know I have a lot of friends and family that would love for me to move back to NY. At one time, I thought I might, but I have roots planted in Washington now and don’t plan on leaving, at least till my daughter is through high school. After that, my wife and I have talked about possibly moving to the west coast, maybe Oregon or even abroad.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Two pieces of advice from my older brother Joe, “always look the person you're talking to in the eyes.” and “always take advice from someone older than you, they’ve been there before”.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’m a hippy at heart, so probably something in renewable energy or alternative medicine.
What song always makes you happy?
Paint it Black – The Rolling Stones, really almost anything by The Stones.
What’s your favorite local spot?
I don’t get out as much as I should, but I enjoy the seasonal vegetable plates at Beuchert’s Saloon.
What is your favorite ingredient?
Wild ramps, hands down…. or garlic or olive oil or salt or avocados or zucchini or basil, you get the point. No chef has just 1 favorite ingredient.
You’re hosting a dream dinner party. What three people would be at your table?
George Carlin - a brilliant mind.
Bill Murray - utterly hilarious.
The Notorious BIG – “If you don’t know, now you know…”
I couldn’t imagine where the conversation would go; I’m sure it would be life altering and I would probably die from laughter… that leads to the next question.
It’s the last meal of your life - what’s on your plate?
That’s a toss up if I’m getting axed in the morning, definitely after a bowl of pho, if it’s in the evening, mom’s chicken cutlets.
What are your pet peeves?
Arrogance, and servers that can’t carry three plates.
What is your favorite way to give back to the community?
Anything that involves donating time, food, or money to local schools. My favorites from this past year include spending time with Higher Achievement students and showing them the restaurant ropes and of course donating time and food for my daughter's end of year gala.
What’s your favorite go-to junk food?
Usually whatever is in the cabinet when I get home. Unfortunately for my daughter Liliana, it's usually a snack for her school lunch, that I’ll catch hell for later. Or cheese, I eat a lot of cheese.