When a life of excess caught up with chef Matty Matheson, it caught up big time. Still in his 20s, he had a heart attack. But that didn’t stop him. He went back to partying hard.
And then things changed.
As the name of his show, Dead Set on Life (showing on SBS VICELAND on Monday nights or watch it on SBS on Demand - more show details here) implies, the Canadian chef is a big ball of positive energy. He travels around his home country and the world, exploring all the cuisines our planet has to offer. But it’s a very different path to the one he was on in his 20s.
“I had a heart attack at 29, after 10, 15 years of partying hard,” Matty reveals. “Being a chef, working in the culinary industry, everything caught up with me.”
It was the culmination of a life spent in excess – sneaking into pubs as a teenager, drinking till 6am after a night in the kitchen, taking every drug from MDMA to ketamine – but Matty didn’t get the message immediately. After all, if having a heart attack is a bad thing, surviving a heart attack is something different altogether. He was out of the hospital in five days, and back to work in 10.
“I took that as a gold flag of doing more drugs, and drinking more. About a year-and-a-half after my heart attack is when a few of my buddies got together, had an intervention, and I listened. I was over it. I didn’t want to fucking live like that anymore.”
These days Matty has the letters D-S-O-L tattooed on his right knuckles, a constant reminder of his new viewpoint. It changed his approach to work, especially when it came to his television career.
“I’ve been making stuff with VICE almost four years now. It started with hangover cures, where I used to drink and party,” he says. “Then Keep it Canada, the how-to videos [check out Matty making perfect steak and potatoes and Bathtub Cheeto Mac 'n' Cheese] and now Dead Set on Life. I’ve been doing this a few years now, and now it’s time to fucking make a bigger show, a better show than anything I’ve ever done before. And the partying... It’ll be three years [sober] in another week. It’s crazy.”
He still yells, he’s still passionate about food and he’s still very, very Canadian. But these days Matty does it all sober. Partially, that can be attributed to the arrival of his son, Macarthur, who Matty shares with wife, Trish Spencer (they’ve been going out since they were teenagers). In July, he told VICE’s food site Munchies, “Yeah, it’s better than any fucking party; better than anything I’ve ever done. Better than any amount of cocaine I’ve ever sniffed. All of the drugs I’ve ever put up my nose don’t even come close to like how I feel – the love I feel. Whatever I was chasing, it was ridiculous compared to what I feel for this kid.”
Family aside, one man taught Matty a lot of what he knows about the kitchen: Master Rang. Even though he only appears in two episodes of the first series, it wouldn’t be the same Dead Set on Life without this 50-something straight-talker to keep Matty honest. You can see the blunt affection between them, even before you learn Master Rang named his first son Matt.
“He’s a kid that stole a boat in Vietnam, got picked up in Malaysia,” says Matty. “Then from there he got sent to Newfoundland, and from Newfoundland he came to Toronto. And somehow, that guy taught me how to cook French food. That’s crazy. For us to be able to tell that kind of story, and go to the places that are pivotal in his life, in my life, and be able to tell that, that’s just like one sub-story throughout this whole show. That’s a big anchor, and that’s what people are looking for.”
It also explains why Dead Set on Life makes such compelling viewing. It’s not just about the food – it’s about the people. Speaking of which: if 2016-Matty met pre-heart-attack Matty, does he think they’d be mates?
“Right now? I wouldn’t hang out with him now. He’s a psychopath. He’s a freak.”