The Kitchen's Hugo Matheson on escapism, a contrary vegan and fair wages
This is part one of my interview with Hugo Matheson, exec chef of The Kitchen Boulder and The Kitchen Denver. Part two of our chat will run in this space tomorrow.
Hugo Matheson likes to escape -- to the countryside, to the back yard, to Australia and to the solitude of the wine cellar at The Kitchen Denver, the seasonal, New American restaurant that he and co-owner Kimbal Musk opened in March following the success of the original Kitchen and The Kitchen [Upstairs], which the two opened in Boulder in 2004.
"I think a lot about how to give people an escape from life, and I've escaped a few times myself," admits Matheson, who was born in London and raised in the country sixty miles north, near Cambridge. His own "dream world" began when he was seventeen, when he got his first job at a hotel in Cornwall, where, he remembers, "we had the most amazing produce and fresh fruit right outside in the garden, and the sea was just at the end of the road. It was magical."
But his love affair with food actually started at home, in his mother's kitchen. "I loved cooking when I was young, and my mom's kitchen was very much a hangout kitchen, so we all gathered together and cooked a lot -- quiches, steak with sauce béarnaise, amazing legs of lamb that my grandmother would do, and incredible chicken -- and everything was homemade," says Matheson, adding that "good food was just a part of our life."
When Matheson turned eighteen, he attended "cookery school," but not because he was determined to become a chef. "It was a two-month program, and I did it because it looked like fun, all my friends were doing it, and there were a lot of girls," he recalls. A few years later, he went back to culinary school -- a different one -- and this time he took it seriously. "By then, I knew I wanted to be a chef -- there was something about the lifestyle that appealed to me -- and the second time around was a full-time curriculum, and it gave me a chance to connect food back to my childhood, which was really significant to me."
After graduating, he got a call from a guy who had a catering company and was searching for a head chef to oversee the kitchen, and for the next few years, Matheson cooked for a passel of rock stars: Mick Jagger, whose fiftieth birthday party was catered by Matheson; Pink Floyd; the Rolling Stones; and Sting. "It was an incredible experience," he says, "and we had a blast, but we bullshitted our way through it, and eventually I realized that I needed to get away from partying and get my life together."