Interview with Chef Eddie Matney
It is not very often that you will come across a restaurant that feels like home. Sure, most people go out to eat to get out of their own dining rooms, often wanting an elaborate or an opulent experience. While I certainly enjoy those “fancy” experiences, more often than not, I always feel like someone is going to come and tell me that the jig is up, having found out that I really don’t belong there. While I appreciate and at times enjoy being pampered, I prefer an environment where I don’t have to stress over whether or not what I am wearing is appropriate.
Local Arizona Culinary legend, Chef Eddie Matney has created the perfect place for me – and you.
Chef Eddie Matney is intensely passionate about life and food. I got teary-eyed in my interview from him telling of a childhood experience and in talking about what makes a meal memorable. I found Chef Eddie to be the person you want sitting next to you at a bar or the dinner. You know that not only is he the guy with all the stories, but he’s the only one that could do their telling justice. He spoke of his wife and children with the same passion that he did his philanthropic efforts or his favorite meal. In short, Eddie lives and gives with all he has – in all areas of his life. We should all strive to be so honest and with purpose.
He serves up this emotion and passion in each one of his meals at Eddie’s House. Eddie’s House location is genius, in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale and the set up is a dream, from the furniture to the framed photos of the Eddie’s House family. This is truly Eddie’s House.
The menu is refined and a tribute to his culinary history and his heritage. Eddie’s passion and desire to create experiences through food show in all aspects of Eddie’s House. From searching for high quality local products to hand-picking an energetic and professional team, Eddie now feels that he has created the most personal of all his restaurants.
Welcome, to Eddie’s House.
Taryn Jeffries: Do you feel like there is a different vibe here than the other restaurants? I remember that one of my very first dates with my husband was at your Biltmore location.
Eddie Matney: Well we had a restaurant also on 7th street and Camelback also, that was the first restaurant we had. That was definitely, out of all the three restaurants that we have had, this is my favorite one. Definitely. But I think, yes, they were three different restaurants and the one on 7th street was sort of tucked away and in the heart of the gay corridor, which is fine, you know it was a different vibe. It was in the middle of an office building. The second one was in an office building also but at 24th street; um this is more me because it’s in Old Town Scottsdale, a store front property. You know small to where, I check the produce, I work the line every day. I’m sitting here broiling last night and I can see people walking in the door so definitely, this is Eddie’s House. The intention was to be if I invite you to my home, you’re comfortable in my home. That was the intention of this, thinking that you were coming into Eddie’s home. Absolutely, it’s more comfortable, it’s more personal. There’s a lot of me in this restaurant as opposed to 7th street and even 24th street. This is more me.
T: As far as you say the vendors coming in, are there certain requirements that you have as far as the suppliers that you use?
EM: Uh, yeah, well I mean we have they’re called Specs. We have certain specs for all of our purveyors whether it’s seafood. You know, like we get scallops, we use a lot of scallops. We want a dry packed scallop coming from this certain place off of Cape Ann which is North of Boston. Our meat we require it to be prime, filet, whatever. Yeah, so there’s always specs or certain requirements or you know the beets that we use, I like them to be a certain size because when you slice them it covers the plate. Depending on what kind of dish we have created we like to have things as close to that as possible and you know when you’re dealing with produce, sometimes its big sometimes it’s small. But, yeah there are definitely requirements and we always want it to be the best, the freshest and meet our needs.
T: Are there any vendors that you use locally?
EM: I use a produce company, Aztec Farms. Aztec uses a lot of local farms whether it’s Sing Farms, Duncan Farms, McClendon Farms. I use, at times, Queen Creek Olive Oil Mill but sometimes it’s cost prohibitive, you know. The thing of it is, given the economy the way it is, I’d love to use every local thing that I can get, but sometimes it’s just expensive. Even with 80 percent of the lettuces that are consumed in the United States in the winter time, they’re grown out in Yuma, 180 miles away, which is interesting. But we try to use as much local stuff and we have just adopted a program that is called, Heritage Ranch which is beef grown in Northern Arizona, so we are using that. And it’s tough to use any local seafood. If I could catch it from the canal I would!
T: Do you feel, as far as the highlighted interest in Celebrity Chefs and everyone having a cooking show, do you feel like that’s been good or bad for the industry?
EM: Well, I don’t think that it’s been bad for the industry; I think it’s been great for the industry because it allows chefs to showcase what we do. How can, myself – I’m not talking about Mark Tarbell or any of those guys that are very good friends of mine, me personally it’s been tremendous, the exposure its brought us, the notoriety it’s brought us to people that have been a little intimidated to try our restaurant, they see our personality and the type of food that we do so I think it puts us sort of on a level playing field. The fact that people call us celebrity chefs – I think it’s kind of funny because in my opinion a celebrity is one that’s on the big screen, a celebrity is one that’s an athlete, a celebrity is someone that gets 10 million dollars a movie…
T: You don’t make 10 million dollars a plate?
EM: (laughs) If that was the case I’d have an even bigger smile on my face! I just think we’re the best chefs, we’re the best in our fields and we’re probably the most involved in the growth of Arizona whether it’s with our culinary talents or our philanthropic talents or anything like that. I think the term celebrity, I mean; I think it’s kind of funny. I mean, I never ever say that I’m a celebrity chef. When someone says oh, you’re such a celebrity chef or they’ll call up and say, “is this THE Eddie Matney?” I say “no I’m not ‘The Eddie’ – this is Eddie.” Because I’m no different than anybody else. I put my pants on one leg at a time, I have a beautiful wife, I have 2 beautiful kids – and I’m no different than anyone else. I go to work every day like everybody else does.
T: You’re just incredibly good at what you do.
EM: Well, you know, I’m good at what I do because I have been very blessed. You know, I can say I’ve been blessed with a wonderful mother and a wonderful father and a great family and I’m of Lebanese heritage and that’s wonderful. And the biggest blessing that I think I have gotten, and this is the truth, is from God. He’s blessed me with the ability to put flavors together that are unheard of and to make them work and He’s given me a tremendous passion, so I have been blessed in all aspects. I really feel that God has blessed me and put me on this earth for a certain reason. So the Celebrity Chef thing, if you want to call me a celebrity, great.
T: But, doesn’t that help you with all the philanthropic things that you want to do?
EM: Yes, absolutely, it helps me with everything. If people want to call me a Celebrity Chef, great, thank you, I think it’s awesome. I don’t see that though, I’m Eddie. I’m Chef Eddie. My son says to me when we go out, when were all out together, Dad, can’t you just be Eddie today? Can’t you just be my Dad? And I say to him, Jacob, it’s not like that, we’re out in public, that’s what happens. You know, we’re out anywhere, anywhere in the state and it’s like oh, there’s Chef Eddie and you know sometimes Jacob gets perturbed by it because he just wants me to be Dad. But, he knows first and foremost I’m his daddy. I mean, I’m honored. I think it’s great. I would rather be considered a celebrity chef than not a celebrity chef.
T: So who would you consider, in this space and this concept, to be your dream diner? Not necessarily a specific person, but what type of person?
EM: The type of person that I would love to have come into Eddie’s House is one that first of all loves to eat, loves to dine and loves to try new things. You know – loves and appreciates what we do in here from the funky front door to the fact that our hostess’ take pride in what they do and the bar is right here and we want to know your name when you come in and get to try 8 different things on the menu and say, oh I love the taste of this, I like what you’re trying to do here. That’s what I want. My ultimate diner is one that wants to be adventurous, fun, have a great time and also be light-hearted, you know and just love to smile and just go with it and an energy person. I don’t want people to come in and say, well I can only eat this and I don’t like to eat that. Come in here, enjoy yourself and have a good time. To me, life is too short, and we have very, very few celebrations in our lives. I want the celebration to be in their mouth and in their heart and in their soul when you are in this restaurant. I want them to feel the passion that we have.
T: I’ve noticed just in the time that I’ve been here, and there’s no diners here, but just sort of observing the staff, talking to each other and c’mon, Tommy, just the way that everyone, there’s like gentle ribbing, every-body’s poking fun at each other and its, this has to be, I mean obviously I know you’re proud of your work, but…
EM: Absolutely. You want to know something? From everybody that answers the phone – that girl up there that answers the phone, smart as a whip, drop dead beautiful, smart as a whip, conscientious about what she does, cares about what she does, she 21 years old, wants responsibility, wants to do a good job, wants to make people happy and is genuinely excited to when this restaurant is busy. How could you not? She’s the first impression that people get or whoever it is, any of the girls, to our bartenders who are phenomenal, our servers, our chefs that are having fun with people and talking to them. That’s what we want.
T: How do you find all these people – to have such a large group of people that share the same energy and mentality?
EM: Well, it’s what we look for. We just hired 3 servers out of 300 people. SO that tells you we look for a certain energy, you know how positive they are, how everything, from the way they’re dressed. So you know, that’s what we look for. You know (points to the hostess), I could take her home and say, you know I would love to have this girl as my daughter – the way she conducts herself. You know we consider Tommy the Grandpa here. Tommy is my right hand here and I have Danny who I would have as my business partner here. Everybody has a role and everybody fits in the role. It’s awesome, I have the greatest…we just had a family, I mean an ‘employee party’ at my house. We had 50 people at my house. We all had a blast. We were playing dodge ball and basketball and eating and walking around and watching the sports and the kids. We had dogs running around in the backyard. And. at the end of the party everyone was sitting around the campfire out back.
T: That has to be amazing to know that you created that.
EM: I don’t know if I created it – I look at it like God has blessed me with these people around me. Listen, I’m just a soldier. I’m just one of the soldiers or generals in life and you know these are people that I laugh with, I work with, we have confrontation with, I cry with and we celebrate together and have fun.
T: Who do you think you have learned the most about cooking from?
EM: Personally, my mom and dad. My mom gave me the foundation that food is the expression of love. Maybe you don’t know somebody, but if you cook for them it’s a way to say welcome. And if you cook from your heart, and if you really believe that it’s good, it will be good.
Professional: the one chef that I have probably admired most of all of my life has been Wolfgang Puck – because of what he’s done. He’s a pioneer. He’s also, his longevity is tremendous. The fact that he took pizza to a whole new level and he continues to do that – he has soups, he has everything. I can’t say I’ve looked at anybody else’s food and say ‘that’s the kind of food that I want to do’. But I emulate his passion. My mom and Dad and Wolfgang Puck and then maybe in this town, who I probably admire, well, I don’t know if I want to say ‘admire’, but you know, I look at everybody. I don’t look at any chef and say that is the kind of food I want to do. I do my own thing. You know, a lot of critics have said in a world of copycats, Eddie Matney dances to the beat of his own drum. Whether it’s goofy crazy, or it works. That’s his deal. The chefs that I admire most in this valley are Mark Tarbell, Beau Macmillan, Michael DiMaria who’s my best friend in the whole world; he’s probably shown me better ways to do things because I spend the most time with him. Michael’s like – we call him the ‘General’. You know Vincent, even though I don’t adapt to his French technique but I admire him and I love him, I call him the ‘Godfather’. Chris Bianco, you know I love Chris, he’s a great guy. James Porter, Chuck Wiley, you know all different styles of food… Matt Carter. I admire all those guys, they’re really good friends and I have to tell you , if Michael was to come walking through this door right now, Michael would come in and not shake my hand, he would come up and hug me and kiss me on the cheek. Same with Todd Ciccoli who’s the Executive Chef at the Biltmore – one of my closest, my very close friends – he calls me ‘Poppy’. He comes in [Mark Tarbell] – they don’t come in and say hey, what’s going on, shake each other’s hand, we come in and we kiss each other on the cheek, that’s the way we are. I don’t do that with just anybody – I do it with these guys because they’re my buddies. There’s camaraderie, there’s a brother-ship, you know that we care about each other.
T: Are there any foods, in your personal life that you just don’t like?
EM: I don’t like salad. I don’t.
T: Any kind of salad in particular or just the general concept of salad?
EM: None of it. I don’t care what it is, I don’t like salad. I eat them and I make them better, but I ‘don’t eat a lettuce and say, “oh my gosh, that lettuce is just so good”. Lettuce I don’t like, I mean I’ll eat every vegetable there is. I’ll eat every part of the animal except pig’s feet. I eat menudo, I eat liver, I eat kidneys, I eat everything – but if I was going to say if there’s one thing I don’t like its salad. I don’t like salads; I’m not a salad person. Now, I can take greens and put in heirloom tomatoes, onions, corn, steak and whatever else and make it – you know top it with 3 fried eggs that are bakes in bacon grease…
T: SO you basically hide any semblance of the lettuce?
EM: Yeah, yeah.
T: What have you found, maybe not now because you are at a different level, but maybe when you were coming up was the most difficult dish for you to master?
EM: Baking. I hate it. I hate baking, not that I can’t do it. I do it and I’ve been trained in baking, I went to what was probably the best school 20 years ago. I went there and I can bake anything, but I hate it. I don’t want to measure, I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.
T: Do you think because of that – because it’s more precise and there’s not a lot of improvisational things that you can do during the process?
EM: Yeah, it’s more precise and it’s not my gig. Sautéing, cooking you know whatever, I can taste something and say it needs this, this and this. I hate baking. Baking I hate, I always will.
T: What do you think has been the best meal that you have ever had?
EM: The best meal that I ever had in my life? It was when my dad first got a gas grill, I was 10 years old. He and I sat outside, my mom was at work, my dad was cooking on that outside grill for hours. And he’d cook and he’d say go get me a tomato from the garden and I’d go get him a tomato from the garden. Go get a cucumber, go get some fresh mint and we’d make these little, they’re called metnies and we would do everything literally from lamb with pita bread to fresh cucumber and lemon, or fresh cucumber and chile and we did this for hours – from 6 o’clock at night until 10 o’clock at night. It happened in the summertime and my brother, Michael was doing something, and we ate for hours, but I remember that as being my most favorite meal that I have ever, ever had. My mom would come out and she’d give us a little tabouli and my brother would come in – but it was me and my dad and that’s when I spent the most time in front of the grill and he was so proud of having a grill because we came from nothing. But, he was so proud to have a gas grill because you always had charcoal and that was probably my most memorable meal that I have ever had. Now, I do have to say, I’ve had days on my house where it’s been chilly outside and I’ve cooked all day long with my kids and my wife. We do blind taste tests with the kids and my son will get excited and say, dad I found salmon roe in the freezer. The kids are 10 & 7 and yeah, I have a picture of them eating salmon roe salad. So those times have been wonderful too. Anything, you’ve gotta think this, anything that – the most special times that you have ever had in your life always have to do with food. Because it’s a celebration – whether it’s a time that you sat there with your husband and you hold onto him and you look up at him and he feeds you something – whatever it is, there’s things that…
T: It’s almost as if it doesn’t matter so much what the food is.
EM: No, it’s everything, everything. It’s everything. And you know I remember that time with my dad, you know my dad has been gone for 13 years and uh there’s days that I know he’s right next to me and there’s day that I can see him when I’m cooking things and it brings me back to those days. And you have to think about this, first of all I am a very passionate person and I am a very spiritual person and I believe that all the things that I have been able to experience are from being blessed with things but everything, it really is an expression of love, what we do, whether you fed somebody, whether your husband holds onto you wile you have a margarita or whatever it is we’re always around food. Whether it’s McDonalds or a baseball game and your husband comes up and does something goofy with a hot dog and you just laugh but it sticks out in your mind. Every time – if you can feed something to someone and it takes them back to that moment, that’s the greatest compliment of all. I remember when my mom used to make this, or they look at me and say I remember eating my grandma’s meatloaf and it never tasted like this but it reminded me of when she used to put ketchup on it or whatever. Are you kidding me – you know people ask me is that really a compliment? Absofreakinglutely! And a perfect example of that – have you seen the movie Ratatouille? You remember when that bastard food critic that was always an ass –he ate that ratatouille and it took him right back to his childhood when his mom would come through the door and make him ratatouille? That’s what food is!
T: You gave me goose bumps, Eddie! Now I stole this question from Anthony Bourdain…
EM: Okay – I’m a fan of Anthony Bourdain
T: If you were going to be executed tomorrow, what would you want your last meal to be?
EM: I would like to have a double cheeseburger topped with a fried egg to start, Id like to have a cup of French Onion soup with really a lot of cheese on it that id have to cut the cheese with a knife, my moms tabouli, a few lamb chops with hummus and then about a 26 ounce cut of prime rib and then my mom’s chocolate pudding with almonds.
T: Thats a lot of food.
EM: Well if I was going to die tomorrow Id be, Id eat, puke, eat, puke, eat, puke!
T: Is there one thing that you make at home that you have never made at any of the restaurants?
EM: Canned soup! You know, everything that I make at home, I would make here – just not the canned soup – or warm shredded wheat.
T: Though I know there are different trends that come and go, is there one trend or ingredient that is your favorite right now?
EM: I never really follow the trends or anything like that. But what I’ve been using a lot lately are sugar beets…candied sugar beets. And then people are really putting an emphasis on knowing where there food comes from and that getting bigger and bigger. And you know were getting beef from northern Arizona and you know just because I think people want to know what’s in it and where it’s from.
T: If you couldn’t be a chef, what would you see yourself doing?
EM: I always say that if I wasn’t a chef I would have been an NBA basketball player but I’m a little too short for that. But if I if for some reason I could not be a chef I would want to be a fly-fishing guide in Montana or Wyoming or Idaho or somewhere like that. And what I would want to have is, I’d want to have a double wide trailer on the side of the river or a cabin on the side of the river, have drift boat to be able to take my clients in, have a couple dogs and do fly fishing trips and halfway through the trip pull off over to the side and normally you have turkey sandwiches or something but id pull out a little grill and do something really great, maybe have a little wine with their lunch, then we’d get back at it. We’d be the first on the river and we’d be the last off, and we’d always see the sunset and we’d always wasn’t to be there for the last hatch and that’s what I would love to do.
T: Is that something that you actually do away from the restaurant?
EM: I’m an avid avid fly fisher Fly-fishing is definitely my third passion (aside from family and cooking). I love fly-fishing for not only for catching fish but for the beauty of where it puts you at.
T: Do you have any big plans in the works? I know you’re involved with Wild Noodles and Poore Brother’s – is there anything else up your sleeve?
EM: Um, do I have anything up my sleeve? I can’t, I have something up my sleeve…
T: You have secrets?
EM: I have a couple secrets. I have 3 secrets. But I really can’t say anything about any one of them – because I don’t want it to be premature for myself… I gotta make sure they’re all working, but as soon as all these things get starting to work I’ll let everybody know. I’ll let everybody definitely know.
T: What is your favorite thing on the menu here?
EM: Lamb chops. Lamb chops with the mint. Yeah, I love it. I could eat those every day – those are definitely my favorite thing to eat here.
T: Is there anything that you would like for our readers to know – to get them here?
EM: Here’s the thing, I really think, I know they’ll have a great time from the minute they walk in the door. From our friendly great staff, our servers, our food, you know every entrée is easily done in half portions so people can do that. It’s really a restaurant to come in have a good time and when you leave you say gosh, that was great I can’t wait to come back. You know were not an expensive restaurant, you know were very reasonable prices. If they want to know more to go to our website at eddieshouseaz.com. I encourage them to become a member of our club because we send emails out all the time. Just come in and try it – we have a great happy hour. It’s just, really a great place to come in and hang out.
Interview by Taryn Jeffies, PhoenixBites Staff Writer