05 May Meet Executive Chef Mathew Koyanagi: Savoury City’s Secret Ingredient
A Culinary Autobiography
Chef Mathew Koyanagi is a storyteller. Herbs and spices form his grammatical structure and his cooking completes the complex sentences of his personal narrative. To taste Chef Mathew’s creations is to know his history–like reading tea leaves, much can be revealed by the careful study of his dishes. Even sampling his devilled quail’s eggs canape, with their rich yolks, creme fresh, white miso, togarashi, sesame and tobiko caviar, reveals much about Mathew’s story.
Koyanagi is Vietnamese, and was adopted by his Scottish Mother, and Japanese Father. Growing up in this culturally diverse family, he was exposed to eclectic cuisine styles. “With my mother,” explains Mathew, “it was a lot of meat and potatoes, rich stews, and great home baking, while my father was all about seafood, freshness, and random flavours. Raw egg on rice with salted fish. Cured and pickled…stuff that you didn’t think should be pickled, he pickled it!”
Clearly, with Mathew, East meets West in the most delightful and unexpected ways. “You can taste that influence in my dishes, like the quail’s eggs and my take on Oysters Rockefeller. Instead of the very rich traditional Rockefeller, for example, I infused a Japanese curry broth, and Persian style feta cheese which has an Indian paneer essence to it.” Indeed, Mathew will take you around the world in the shell of an Oyster!
A World of Flavours
Mathew’s penchant for creating unique dishes that pay homage to different corners of the world has much to do with his global travel. He has lived in Beijing, where he was asked to create menus, and hire and train catering staff. While there, he prepared a dinner on the Great Wall of China, and another on the back of a Dragon Boat. However, his career started a tad more humbly…and safely!
Mathew recalls his first kitchen job at a little Italian restaurant on 4th and Arbutus: “I was a dishwasher and then a prep cook. One day most of the kitchen staff got sick, so they told me I had to pretty much take over.” It’s this ability to adapt quickly and handle pressure with grace that has helped Mathew ascend in his career. He literally went from the pan into the fire, and did it with style.
Cutting his Teeth
Koyanagi then spent a couple seasons at an exclusive fishing resort in Haida Gwaii where he learned how to cook under all sorts of unique circumstances, something that he says greatly prepared him for the contingencies of the catering world. “It was there that I got a taste of exotic locals and the local produce. Back then we had no internet, and all communication was by satellite. Because the lodge was only accessible by helicopter, we sometimes had to go weeks without supplies. You had to think on your feet and improvise a lot of the time.”
After ascending in the ranks to sous chef at a restaurant in White Rock, Mathew decided to spend time working in the Queen Charlotte Islands where he cooked for celebrities, politicians and even royalty! A long way from washing dishes on 4th and Arbutus!
And Now for Something Completely Different!
It was during these years that Mathew got a taste of the unusual, of cooking as adventure. Mathew explains, “I developed a love of the far-flung. We did a dinner at the top of Grouse Mountain and one time I drove to Calgary in a snow storm in a one-ton van full of cooking equipment for a 50th birthday. I drove back 24 hours later!”
The Sonny and Cher of Catering
Mathew loves working with Donna Wadsworth, head honcho at Savoury City, as he gets the opportunity to bring his vast experience, sense of adventure, cultural knowledge, and background to the table. They have a truly collaborative relationship, working on menus, events, and new ideas together. Two masters hard at work, creating lasting culinary memories for their clients.
History has shown that success is often dependant on great duos. Just as historical duos like Lewis and Clark, Jay-Z and Beyonce, Sonny and Cher and Bert and Ernie helped nudge the world, Donna and Mathew, are changing the world one event at a time!
The Narrative Continues
Mathew has many more stories to tell with his cuisine, and we can’t wait to taste what he has to say!