matt fortner1.jpg
Photo by Leslie Kelly
On the patio at How to Cook A Wolf.
Matt Fortner has been the chef de cuisine at Ethan Stowell's How


Wolf's Matt Fortner Has a Four-Star Resume

matt fortner1.jpg
Photo by Leslie Kelly
On the patio at How to Cook A Wolf.
Matt Fortner has been the chef de cuisine at Ethan Stowell's How To Cook A Wolf since February, but this cook has been seasoned at some of the best and most beloved restaurants around Seattle. He's got chops. And an accent as sweet as a slice of Red Velvet cake.

SW: Great accent! Where are you from?

Matt: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. When I was in elementary school, we moved to rural Virginia, where our family grew tobacco among other things. Then I went to high school near Knoxville, Tenn.

SW: How did you get to Seattle?

Matt: I came out here on vacation and liked it so much I decided to transplant myself out here. I was 23 and I had been thinking of going to culinary school in Atlanta, Georgia, but I came out here instead. That was in '98 and I've been here since.

SW: Did you go to culinary school?

Matt: Yes. I went to the Art Institute of Seattle. After school, I worked at the Sand Point Grill. I did a brief stint at Fandango for Chris Keff. Then I went to Lampreia. I wish I could have stayed there longer, but I couldn't afford to. Looking back on that time, I learned more from Scott Carsberg than anybody else. He's really good. He's super strict and kind of a maniac, but I like that energy and that seriousness. It's so much harder to do food at that level. It's hard to do 50 perfect plates. I worked at Fuller's and Campagne simultaneously to pay off my student loans. I opened 727 Pine with Danielle Custer and then William Belicks from Mistral called and told me there was a restaurant in Belltown looking for a chef. I went from being a cook to being chef at Marjorie in July 2004. I stayed there for two and a half years until I got married and went on a honeymoon for four months. When I got back, Tavolata was opening and I just wanted to get a job. Just by happenstance, I rolled right into being chef de cuisine at Tavolata for the first year and a half before going to South America for seven months. When I got back, Ethan was opening Anchovies & Olives and I helped out there. I had always wanted to be in the kitchen at How To Cook A Wolf, so when that came up, I jumped on it. I've been here about a year. Been the chef de cuisine since February.

SW: What happened to the former HTCAW chef, Ryan Weed?

Matt: He's been working over at June. He still comes in and fills in here from time to time. He's a good friend and nobody knows this kitchen better.

SW: How have things changed here since you took over?

Matt: I think we have the best staff we've ever had. Brandin Myett and Brandon Karow. He's going to be the sous at Staple & Fancy when it opens next month, but my original sous chef from Tavolata is back in town and he's going to come to work here. I wouldn't say things have changed that much because it's a restaurant that's not broken, so if it's not broken, it doesn't need fixing. We search out the best ingredients we can find and preparing them as simply as we can. Three or four ingredients is probably the maximum. We like to let the product stand out, keeping it simple, not mucking it up. I think a lot of cooks early in their careers don't know when to call it.

SW: The menu seems pretty focused on Italian. Would there ever be a place for your Southern roots to show?

Matt: No, I'm not too big into Southern food. I do like biscuits and gravy.

SW: Well, on that note: Can you confirm or debunk the Southern food stereotype? That all Southern food is deep-fried and everything's fattening.

Matt: I don't agree with that. One of the best things my mom makes is pinto beans and cornbread with collard greens. Though I don't know if you can get a Southern man to eat fish that's not fried.

Check back for part two of this week's Grillaxin for Matt Fortner's guide to building the perfect fire for your next cookout.

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