The Two Headed Monster: Chef Ted Mathesius

It’s rare to meet someone who willingly refers to themselves as a “two-headed monster” within the first five minutes meeting, but Chef Ted Mathesius is a rare breed. Having spent the last two decades mixing it up in kitchens in Seattle and beyond, he is now rocking the corporate dining world at Adobe’s Lehi, Utah campus. His emphasis on fresh produce recently earned him a Produce Excellence in Foodservice Award, but he’d tell you it’s all in a day’s work.

Q

What inspired you to begin cooking?

A

Oh, boy. I was a young kid who didn’t have a lot of parental support and found myself in a position of needing to work when I was about 15. I already had a bit of a passion for cooking because we always had to cook for ourselves. I also enjoyed watching my Grandma bake and that really kind of turned me onto it.

Q

How did you break into the cooking industry?

A

One of my buddies worked at Cinnabon, which was kind of a big deal back then (the late 80’s). After working there for a few months, I decided I was going to move to Seattle and transfer to a Cinnabon there. It was in a big fancy mall, and after checking it out I knew I didn’t want to do that and instead got a job washing dishes at a big restaurant.
I did an American Culinary Federation (ACF) Apprenticeship at the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle. I spent most of my time in pastry because that’s where they needed the most help. I think that led into my use of vegetables in a cool way because I because became certified as a pastry chef and as a chef. It’s pretty rare to have a chef that’s more than competent in baking, it’s definitely a different discipline so that made me worth more in the market, the “two-headed monster” if you will.

Q

What are some considerations you make to include fresh produce on your menu?

A

Well, obviously I try to be as local as possible. Our season here in Utah is challenging, but it’s very bountiful when it’s on so we get amazing late peppers, tomatoes and melons from July to September. Seasonality and sustainability are also very important, but again challenging in Utah.

Q

What are some considerations you make to include fresh produce on your menu?

A

Well, obviously I try to be as local as possible. Our season here in Utah is challenging, but it’s very bountiful when it’s on so we get amazing late peppers, tomatoes and melons from July to September. Seasonality and sustainability are also very important, but again challenging in Utah.

Q

How do you keep ingredients local?

A

Our company (Bon Appetit) has pretty strict rules about the percentage of local purchases (at least 20 percent). I’m actually one of 20 foragers for the company so I’m responsible for finding suppliers that are producing within 150 miles of the Café. It’s pretty intense because it’s hard to do out here. When I got to Adobe, the Café purchased about 1 percent local ingredients. We are now 13 percent local.
We also have two gardens here that are run by Adobe employees. The other day I blew it and I forgot to order cherry tomatoes, so I sent a prep cookout and he came back with fresh tomatoes and jalapeños and that was pretty cool. It gets everybody excited and they want to come down and eat it and it doesn’t hurt that t tastes really good, too.

Q

Based on the produce that is locally available in each season, when do you most and least enjoy cooking?

A

My least favorite is the winter. We’re basically at the mercy of what’s coming in from California during that time of year. That being said, there is a hydroponic greens grower in Pleasant Grove. They’re cool because they produce awesome lettuces and herbs all year round.
My favorite season for cooking is late summer/early fall because we have everything. Late peppers, green tomatoes, you name it, we got it.

Q

Let’s talk about your purveyor. What role do they play in your success?

A

My purveyor is Muir (Copper Canyon Farms). They are super, super, super supportive of me; they recently nominated me for the Produce Excellence in Foodservice Awards.
I work with Kevin Romph at Muir and he’s the man. No matter what comes up, these guys have always been there for me. They have a lot of relationships with small farms that bring us good, local stuff in the summer.

Q

What are some innovations or trends that are making serving produce simpler?

A

I think the current health movement is making produce more prominent. You know, we are the first café in America to completely recipe and nutritionally announce all of our dishes. We have an iPad that guests can use the see exactly what’s in each dish, and the corresponding nutrition facts. Adobe hired a nutritionist to help us with that.

Q

You gained notoriety for initiating a “Meatless Monday” at the Adobe Café in Lehi. What has the response been?

A

The response has been great. The employees are pretty excited and we’ve gotten a great response. In fact, Adobe initiated a nationwide “Meatless Monday” for all four of its US campuses earlier this year. I believe that a couple international offices participated as well.
It is done with a bit of smoke in mirrors, guests can still order a burger from the grill if they choose.

Q

What is the greatest challenge and greatest reward of working at Adobe?

A

The greatest challenge is staffing. Finding consistent, quality people to do hard work can be difficult. It’s also challenging to take my passion and drive and communicate it to staff in an approachable way.
I think the greatest reward of my job is guest satisfaction. These people, they get pretty stoked about the food that we make, and when I first came here that wasn’t quite the case. I think the support of Adobe is huge for me, too.

Q

How do you keep ideas fresh?

A

I like to read. I don’t read a lot of cookbooks, but I get Lucky Peach magazine and that inspire me.
Now that I’ve been doing this for so long, I inspire myself by trying to not do things I’ve done in the past.
I’m also inspired by my crew and fellow employees. I’ve got different people from different backgrounds and I try to make food that is comforting or exciting to them, or maybe even puts them out on a limb.

Q

What do you feel is the next “big thing” in foodservice?

A

I think it’s going to go full-circle, back to tableside cuisine with more of a show. I think we’ll begin to see even more open kitchens to provide an interactive guest experience.
I also think that vegetables are coming to the center of the plate. People are becoming more health-conscious and realizing that if they want to be around for a while, then they need to start eating better and taking better care of the land.

Q

What advice do you have for budding chefs?

A

I learned from a guy when I was a kid that chefs are all different but all crazy. If you’re going to be the best, you need to learn the most you can from people, then move on when an opportunity presents itself to learn more. It’s not really advice that people give anymore, because they want people to stay forever but when you are a young kid trying to hone your craft, you’ve got to work with the best. The real deal is if you aren’t learning anymore, then what’s the point?