Meet the man behind the pasta! This week, we’re spotlighting the man, the myth, the legend… Executive Chef Matt Harding. Chef Matt pulls from decades of expertise in the kitchen, time spent abroad, and an education from the esteemed Culinary Institute of America. Today, he’s the fearless leader of our Culinary Team at Piada HQ, working hard to keep Piada fresh, inspired, and cutting edge.
From a floppy-haired San Fran hippie to the driving force that he is today, his journey to Piada is one filled with love, adventure, family, and a fierce passion for the spirit of culinary excellence.
Raised in Massachusetts in a town near Cape Cod, Matt learned to appreciate the ingredients that came fresh from the bay or local farms, the smell of a good meal, and those cherished childhood memories.
“I thought about food a lot as a kid, and it brought me comfort. Smell is a powerful sense. It ties me to some of the best moments in my life, like when my mom would oven roast chicken, or the smell of fresh steamed clams as you lift the pot lid. A good meal is a powerfully visceral experience."
Just as important as the meal is the company one shares it with. Family is an important part of Chef Matt’s life. One of his earliest and most influential food memories was on his late grandmother’s farm.
"She owned a beautiful rhubarb patch. It faced the southside of her old cow barn which stored Josephine the Tractor. In the spring the rhubarb would pop up. I remember being 5 years old and spending all day pulling rhubarb right out of the ground, just eating and eating until my stomach ached.”
For Chef Matt, the experience is a crucial element of a good meal. Whether eating raw rhubarb straight from the garden on his grandmother’s farm or gathering with family and friends for a clambake, the company and setting of the meal are just as important as the ingredients.
“I don’t have a favorite thing to cook. It’s all about how the spirit of the meal moves me. I get geeked out by the experience. Like when I’m camping, I want to get some coals roaring hot, use freshly cracked black pepper and kosher sea salt on an incredible cut of steak. Or if I’m at the farmer’s market, and the freshest, most amazing tomatoes are in season, they’ll be the star of the show. It’s all about authenticity.”
Chef Matt’s journey through the food industry has taken him all over the world. He’s lived and learned in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Columbus, even Southeastern Bavaria in Germany.
“Looking back, I definitely learned the most in San Francisco, the city is a melting pot, and I was lucky to experience and learn from that melding of cuisines, lifestyles, and cultures. There, I learned to struggle, to work hard, and to live on my own.”
In fact, in San Francisco, Chef Matt had an encounter during a job interview that would ultimately go on to change the course of his life.
“I was in my early twenties, and I was applying for a sous chef position. The corporate chef interviewing me asked me ‘What do you want to achieve?’ and I said ‘Well, I want your job.’ He looked me in the eye and said ‘Kid, you’ll never be a corporate chef.’ Yeah, he may not have been right about that.”
Throughout his career, he’s continuously been inspired by the ingenuity, resilience, and relevancy of his craft.
“The food industry is always changing. It’s experimental, fast-paced, and rewarding. It’s a direct reflection of what’s happening around the world, too. What do people need? Comfort food? Maybe innovation? Well, that all starts in the restaurants. Then, it’s on social media, the blogs, then it’s in the cookbooks, then the food and trade magazines, then it’s on the shelves. Everything influences food, and food influences everything.”
Chef Matt’s passion for the industry has a heavy influence on his day-to-day work life at
Piada; it pushes him to think big, be creative, take risks, and strive to accomplish huge
goals. At the end of the day, business aside, he remembers that Piada is nothing without
its team members.
“If you work for a company and help shape what happens inside of it, sometimes you have to decide against the thing that's right for the business to do the thing that's right for the people. It's an honor and a privilege to make those decisions.”
A lifetime of industry experience, time spent abroad, and the opportunity to work for some truly great mentors has imparted Chef Matt with some valuable life-lessons. We asked Chef Matt, “What has being a Chef taught you about life?”. He offered these pearls of wisdom.
1. Nothing is permanent, life has seasons. Tomatoes aren’t perfect and plentiful year-round.
2. People will come into your life and they won’t be around forever, so you better appreciate them.
3. Take the opportunities that scare you, challenge yourself, grow as a person.
4. What you get dealt is what you get dealt, but what you do with it is everything.
5. The most important thing in life is love.