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How Matty Matheson is not-so-quietly building the indie food-media empire we all need

A new web series to promote his upcoming book, ‘Matty Matheson Home Style Cookery,’ is just the latest venture from the best-selling author.

How Matty Matheson is not-so-quietly building the indie food-media empire we all need

All the plans were set. Chef Matty Matheson’s follow-up to his 2018 best-seller, Matty Matheson: A Cookbook, this time called Matty Matheson Home Style Cookery, was launching in September, and along with it, Matheson had booked a three-month world promotion tour.

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It was going to spread the Matty brand around the globe.

Then the pandemic hit, and everything was canceled.

“When COVID hit, I went through what many people went through—this isn’t happening, oh this is definitely happening—I lost every single sponsorship,” says Matheson. “There’s anxiety, depression, all the emotions of the ocean. Then a month in, it was like, I need to think about how to generate money. I need to figure out how to monetize myself. I had to think about, how the fuck can I promote my new book?”

The answer is the same as what got him famous in the first place: Make a video.

Actually, it’s a series.

Trolling his own cookbook

Named for its namesake book, the new series has Matheson cherry-picking some of his favorite recipes from the print edition, mixed with some of the chaotic magic that happens when you put him in a kitchen in front of a camera. World tour or not, there is no better way to market a Matty product than this. Loud and profane, yes, but also a giant, jolly kinetic ball of pure, unadulterated creative joy.

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A couple of years ago, Matheson moved with his wife and young children from Toronto, where he’d lived since 2000, to a farm in his hometown of Fort Erie, Ontario, about 90 miles from the city. Last fall, he launched a self-produced cooking show, shot in his kitchen, called Just a Dash, which is a bit like Julia Child on ‘shrooms. By that I mean, between Matty’s frenetic energy, and some off-the-charts editing hilarity, it peels back the curtain on the artifice of cooking shows.

As fun as that is, Matheson wanted to bring a different vibe to Home Style Cookery.

“I wanted it to be very straightforward, this is how you cook,” he says. “Still with jokes, still me, but it doesn’t need to be this melodrama of the insanity of my brain every episode.”

At first he wasn’t sure what format it would take, but eventually he just decided to cook the recipes he liked best—and that also would translate to video most seamlessly. “Making a video about me making bread would be whatever, so I’ll pick out the hits, we’ll shoot them, and I’m just going to make fun of myself,” he says. “Cookbooks are so egotistical and funny, I wanted to do a show where I kind of troll my own book.”

The show features Matheson reading—and sometimes laughing at, and sometimes confused by—the text he wrote almost a year ago. Matheson takes a very egalitarian view of food. He’s not a snob, and he sees his new book and the complementary series as both entertainment and entry point.

“My second book is what I think is a start and finish—from stocks to breads, pickles, sandwiches, soups, grilled, smoked—great foundation for any home cook,” he says. “It talks a bit about technique, but not too geeky. I’d rather be the gateway. I really like talking at an entry-level cooking level, because I think it’s a nicer thing. If people want to get to a place that’s more advanced, they’re going to get there, and there are a lot of cookbooks out there for them for that.”

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The wild man in the kitchen

Before 2013, Matheson was well known in Toronto as both a chef at the hipster favorite Parts & Labour restaurant and within the city’s food scene as an all-around wild man. In 2013, he won the Toronto episode of the reality series Burger Wars, had a heart attack scare, and got sober. For most of his global fans, though, a video for Vice’s Munchies series on how to make the perfect cheeseburger was their formal introduction.

That video kicked off his relationship with Vice, which would eventually bloom into multiple shows, including Keep It Canada, It’s Suppertime, and Dead Set on Life. With Matheson, his personality, energy, and laughs drove the success and popularity of these shows as much as his insights on food. He brought the same energy to his first book, combining the laughs with some fun family history and insight into his life through food. That combination boosted his stock even more, and he booked late-night appearances on Jimmy Kimmel and Seth Meyers as well as putting out hot wing fire on Hot Ones.

Life after Vice

Last year, Matheson stopped working with Vice, but the decision to produce his own shows wasn’t entirely voluntary, at least initially. “With Vice, I hit a ceiling with them, and they hit a ceiling with me. I didn’t want to do another travel show. I don’t think the world needs another white guy traveling the world identifying different cultures,” says Matheson. “We just had a nice separation, thank you for everything.”

At that point, he did what he calls “the typical ego thing” and went to Los Angeles to have all the meetings, imagining it would lead to more high-profile shows, a big-money Netflix deal, maybe some Quibi cash, who knows.

Then nothing happened.

“I went to L.A., I had the meetings, and nothing was clicking,” he says. “I shot some sizzle reels, I shot some pilots, and it just got to the point where I was like, fuck everybody, I’m just going to do YouTube myself.”

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So far, it’s working like a charm.

The first season of Just a Dash averaged more than a million views per episode, and the second season (shooting in July) is set for October. He’s had a clothing-line collaboration with surf and skate brand RVCA. He’s working on a limited line of cookware with Castor Design. Home Style Cookery is off to a great start and also features Matheson’s first major sponsorship, with McCain Canada. It feels a bit disorienting at first, with Matheson making poutine with McCain’s frozen fries, and a seafood chowder casserole with the brand’s hash browns.

Also: the sheer lack of swearing.

But he says commercial opportunities like this—and an upcoming partnership with Campbell’s Soup—allow him the freedom to be independent.

“If the right opportunity comes along and I feel okay about it, I’ll do it. If you’re not a complete fucking monster, we can work together. There are some brands I can work with and some I can’t,” he says. “In a pandemic, me losing the amount that I lost, when McCain called, I said yes. You want me to make frozen french fries? I’m in. That’s going to help feed my family, the business, and my small team.”

Matty’s presence on camera is chaotic, but in stepping out from under the umbrella of a larger media organization, he’s honed his focus on building his own brand.

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“I think a lot about everything. I wouldn’t be in this position if I didn’t,” he says. “I don’t even have a manager anymore. It’s me and two employees. I keep it small, we work really hard, and we focus on the things that can succeed. And we move quick because we’re small.”

Right now, the burgeoning Matheson empire includes the two web series, a podcast called Powerful Truth Angels, a new small farm operation called Blue Goose Farm, a limited web series with music producer Benny Blanco called Eat Out America, and his almost 900,000 strong Instagram following. He’s also a stakeholder in Maker Pizza in Toronto, as well as a new BBQ venture called Matty Matheson’s Meat & Three, launched during the pandemic for curbside pickup. The latter has attracted people from as far away as Ottawa (a five-hour round trip).

“I always say this, but I’m dumb enough to do it, because what’s the worst that can happen? I’ve closed restaurants, I’ve lost business, I’ve failed many times. Failure doesn’t scare me,” he says. “I thrive in the mud. I love chaos. The main question is, what can I do that’ll be fun to do? I’m my own boss. I don’t work with a whiteboard that shows all the ways this business is going to help that business work, and so on. I’m not building rocket ships.”

Media is crowded. Our attention is constantly under siege. If you could spend the rest of your life trying to watch all the food shows and content out there, you’ll never finish it.

Amid all this, Matheson offers something markedly different.

“If you want to sum Matty Matheson up,” he says, “I make people laugh and teach them how to cook stuff. That’s it. Kind of.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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