“I never really wanted to come here.”
Matty Matheson is so enthusiastic and effusive in his praise of Australia – its eateries, its produce and its people – that it’s a genuine surprise to hear those words come out of his mouth. But there wasn’t any antipathy towards Australia behind the burly, boisterous, tattooed Canadian chef’s reluctance to come Down Under – it was just a distance thing.
Australia is getting a double-dose of the straight-talking chef right now, with season two of his hit show Dead Set on Life starting on SBS VICELAND tonight at 9pm and then on SBS On Demand. (Find out more about what's coming up in his season two adventures here.)
“It’s so far!” he laughs, a few days into an Australian trip that sees him hitting Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Darwin before jetting off to New Zealand. “And I now see that that way of thinking is a complete cop-out.”
Having said that, Matheson’s only real exposure to Aussies prior to his visit was “really drunk waiters and servers who just wanted to be snowboarding in the mountains, which I now see is not the best representation of what’s down here”.
And now the host of the hit VICELAND series Dead Set on Life, which sees Matheson travelling to various spots around the globe to sample local cuisine, soak up local culture, make a bunch of new buddies and generally carpe the hell out of diem, is converted.
“I think Australia’s phenomenal,” he says.
Of course, it helps to have a guide who knows his way around, and Matheson has “the Don, the Godfather” in the form of Morgan McGlone, the mastermind behind the ever-expanding Belle’s Hot Chicken chain.
The two collaborated on a fried-chicken tasting menu at New York’s Chefs Club last May, and Matheson admits that the meeting “changed everything” about his impressions of Australia.
“I’m in the inner sanctum thanks to this guy,” he smiled. “All the doors are opening; I’m meeting these amazing chefs and eating the best food the country has to offer. I haven’t had a bad bite since I got here.”
And he’s now ready to spread the word about Australian food through his show (one of VICELAND’s most popular) and his sizeable social-media presence (more than 100,000 followers on Instagram, pretty solid for a chef).
Matheson is waiting until he gets to Darwin to shoot footage for the third season of Dead Set on Life, and while he’s having to play his cards close to his chest about what that will actually entail, he happily reveals “we’re going to make the most Australian episode we can”.
But a quick check of his Instagram account displays his abundant appreciation and affection for what we have on offer, and he may be just the cheerleader Australian cuisine needs.
“Nobody is giving Australia the credit it is due,” said Matheson.
“Attica and Brae are the restaurants everybody mentions, and with good reason – Ben [Shewry, owner of Melbourne’s Attica] is a fuckin’ legend. But there are so many good restaurants – world-class restaurants – I’ve tried since I’ve been here.”
He admits at the time of our conversation that the majority of his exposure to Australian food has been in Sydney – he hadn’t been in Melbourne too long when we spoke – but he reeled off restaurants like a resident foodie, namechecking Mr Wong, Automata, Six Penny, Saint Peter and Ester as the places that had thrilled him.
However, during his brief time in Melbourne he was already finding himself, well, very much at home.
“Melbourne as a city is so beautiful, so social – I love the vibe here,” he said. “It has a Toronto vibe. People were claiming Sydney was like Toronto; I have to say it isn’t. It’s a lot like L.A., and not only because you have to drive everywhere! Toronto is a flat grid and Melbourne is much the same, and the different neighbourhoods are very similar to Toronto’s. Fitzroy is a lot like Parkdale, where I live, so I feel very, very comfortable.”
But it’s not just the vibe that is similar to Matheson’s hometown of Toronto. The Canadian city and Australia share a multicultural makeup that results in a smorgasbord of tastes.
“You go to Quebec and…well, it’s French,” he laughs.
“It has a set identity. But Toronto is a bastard city. It has tons and tons of immigrants and it’s become this amazing multicultural city. It has this amazing Jamaican and Sri Lankan and Ethiopian and Spanish and Italian food – you can go to all these different neighbourhoods and just smash.
“And I feel like Australia is the same."
"It’s really refreshing to come to a place where your high expectations are just blown away even more than you ever expected. I want to come back next year. I am going to come back next year. It’s a long time but it’s worth it.”
Catch Dead Set On Life on SBS On Demand.