The Kitchen's Hugo Matheson on escapism, a contrary vegan and fair wages

Matheson ended up taking a position working the front of the house at the River Cafe in London, the same restaurant where Jamie Oliver was plucked from his gig as a line monkey and later catapulted to celebrity-chef stardom. Matheson did time as a server, worked behind the stick and cooked, and this crossover job helped move his career. "I was able to learn a lot of different aspects of the industry beyond cooking, and working in that kitchen changed my understanding and love of food," he explains.

In 1998, Matheson left London for Boulder, where he landed behind the bar -- and on the line -- at Mateo; a few weeks later, he was running the kitchen. "I went in as a $10-an-hour line cook, but I was frustrated with the way the kitchen was being run, so a couple of weeks into the job, I was running it myself," he recalls.

Not long after, he was sitting outside a local cafe one afternoon, downing java, when a Labrador came bounding up to him; it was Kimbal Musk's dog. "Kimbal and I started to talk, I invited him over to my house for dinner, and we became great friends," says Matheson. The pair spent the next two years looking for a spot in Boulder where they could open the original Kitchen. "We'd go hiking, look over the mountain and tell ourselves that there had to be a space out there somewhere," he remembers.

That "somewhere" was on the Pearl Street Mall, where The Kitchen, along with restaurants like Frasca Food and Wine, Pizzeria Locale and Oak at Fourteenth have boosted Boulder's culinary landscape. "I live and breathe every detail of the restaurants. I can't imagine doing anything else," says Matheson, who, in the following interview, weighs in on the restaurant he'll never open, a contrary vegan and his fight to give industry workers a fair wage.

Six words to describe your food: Fresh, simple, clean, approachable, familiar and honest.

Ten words to describe you: Conscious, aware, dedicated, detail-oriented, trustworthy, artistic, driven, shy and a loving dad.

What are your ingredient obsessions? It really depends on what kind of mood I'm in, but at the moment I'm inspired by English peas, fresh fava beans, good calf's liver and all kinds of fresh herbs. But that could all change tomorrow.

What are your kitchen-tool obsessions? A pestle and mortar. I've always liked kitchen tools that are basic forms of hand-driven technology -- things that are timeless -- and a pestle and mortar are perfect examples, plus you can do so much with them: crush peppers and make aioli, garlic paste, salsas and pestos. I'm also obsessed with a sharp knife: That way I won't cut myself.

Most underrated ingredient: Mackerel. It's delicious, versatile and a sustainable source of fish that many people don't approach.

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The Kitchen

1530 16th St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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