April 10, 2020

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Raising the bar

New role at West Broadway lounge sees Winnipeg chef's audience shift from budding ballerinas to craft-cocktail lovers

While chef Kylie Matheson isn’t one for the spotlight, her new role at Langside Grocery is putting her cooking front and centre.

Chef’s Table

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Name: Kylie Matheson
Restaurant: Langside Grocery
Age: 36
Signature dish: Homemade pasta

Matheson, 36, grew up on a grain and cattle farm in Beulah, a tiny western Manitoba community about 120 kilometres northwest of Brandon that is home to fewer than a dozen residents — including her two older brothers. Food was a big part of her childhood.

"My mom was a (registered nurse), so she worked lots of shift work and it was definitely part of my contribution to the farm; making sure the guys had lunch in the field or taking dinner out to the field," she says.

During high school, she worked at the local ice cream shop and at the clubhouse of a nearby golf course. Matheson moved to Winnipeg for university, but quickly realized lecture halls weren’t for her.

"I knew I had to be doing something with my hands and something with a more creative outlet and because I’d always liked cooking, it was something that was a natural fit," she says of her decision to enrol in culinary arts at Red River College.

Joining Langside Grocery in October 2019 has allowed Chef Kylie Matheson to return to the industry with creative freedom. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Joining Langside Grocery in October 2019 has allowed Chef Kylie Matheson to return to the industry with creative freedom. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg’s former Mise Bistro provided her first introduction to the hospitality industry. Later she worked three seasons at the Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill Winery in Kelowna, B.C.

Matheson’s next opportunity took her to Montreal, where she spent five years cooking at restaurants such as Maison Publique — a regular on Canada’s 100 Best restaurant list — and brushing up on the country’s other official language.

"My French was always the best at, like, 3 a.m. in the back of a cab," she says, laughing. "I definitely shouldn’t have dropped out of high school French all those years ago."

When she returned to Winnipeg with her partner in 2014, Matheson pivoted away from fine dining and towards cooking for kids — specifically, making breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for nearly 100 young dancers every day at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s student residence.

"It was really tricky, too, because a lot of those kids are conscious about what they’re eating, even at a young age," she says. "But it was a good time — I got married, we bought a house, we got a dog, I had a baby... and then the call of restaurants was too much. I had to come back."

Joining Langside Grocery in October 2019 has allowed her to return to the industry with creative freedom.

Eva Wasney

What has been your goal with the menu at Langside?

Kylie Matheson

They make such great cocktails that I was really excited to come in and elevate the food a little bit. I don’t want to take myself too seriously; I just tried to think about what I would want to eat if I was sitting at the bar drinking a delicious cocktail and it was snowing outside, or if I was inviting my friends, what would I want to be serving them? It’s got such a cosy feel in here that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel here by any means. We just need to serve good food to good people.

Eva Wasney

What are some of the dishes that embody that idea for you?

Kylie Matheson

My favourite right now on the menu is Cornish game hen, which is a roasted Cornish game hen with baked beans and maple syrup on toast. We have a drink on the menu called the Preston and it’s a warm cocktail and, to me, roast chicken and beans on toast is the cosiest thing you can eat.

Eva Wasney

How would you describe your cooking style?

Kylie Matheson

As long as we’re using good ingredients, I don’t try and do too much to anything. If we’ve got a nice cauliflower then all you’ve gotta do is roast it with some salt and pepper and lemon. Simple is best for me.

 

"It’s (Langside Grocery) got such a cosy feel in here that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel here by any means. We just need to serve good food to good people," says Matheson. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

"It’s (Langside Grocery) got such a cosy feel in here that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel here by any means. We just need to serve good food to good people," says Matheson. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

 

Eva Wasney

Do you have a signature dish that you like to make?

Kylie Matheson

I do really like to make homemade pasta when I have the time and energy and space. Like a beef ragu or pork ragu, something tomato-based with a pappardelle or some kind of long, easy noodle. I could eat that all day.

Eva Wasney

What is your guilty-pleasure food?

Kylie Matheson

Burgers.

Eva Wasney

Is there a burger that you really like?

Kylie Matheson

The Top Ched from Underdogs on Portage — man, that’s a good burger.

Eva Wasney

Do you have anything that you can’t or won’t eat?

Kylie Matheson

No. I’ve thought about that before and people have their tastes and their preferences, but I can honestly say there’s nothing. The first restaurant I worked in in Montreal was called DNA and we really worked at using every single part of the animal. It’s a great way to learn about the responsibility of eating... there was one dish that was the best parts of the duck and it was duck tongue, duck heart, duck liver. It was so weird, but so delicious.

Eva Wasney

Do you have any bucket-list foods you’d like to try or restaurants you’d like to eat at?

Kylie Matheson

I would definitely like to travel some more in Spain and Italy, and really get to the heart of the foods we take for granted, like pasta or pizza. I would like to go to Italy and make pasta with a nonna in the hills somewhere. That’s a bucket list for sure.

Eva Wasney

What’s an ingredient that you always have in your fridge or your pantry?

Kylie Matheson

It’s lame, but good old Cracker Barrel cheddar cheese.

Eva Wasney

Do you have a favourite cookbook that you like to refer to?

Kylie Matheson

At home, there’s this book called the (Ladies Auxiliary to the Royal Canadian Legion Cook Book) and it’s all different Legions from across Canada that have sent in these tried-and-tested recipes. If I’m trying to whip up a cake or something, I go to the Legion book every time.

Eva Wasney

Do you have any family recipes that are really important to you?

Kylie Matheson

My mom makes these cookies that are called oatmealies and they were her grandma’s cookies; they’re like an old, old recipe. When I was first in cooking school, you learn all the rules about what makes good cookies or what makes good bread and I could not make these cookies to save my life because I was trying to follow all these rules. Finally, my mom was like, "No, you don’t do it that way. You don’t cream the butter and whatever, you just mix it all up and you put it on the sheet and you cook ‘em."

When I was at home on mat leave, once I got my head all figured out, I was like, "Yes, this is it. I’m a mom, I get to make my mom’s oatmealies for my daughter." And it was full circle for me.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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