One of Matt Andrews’ goals was to become an executive chef by age 32. This year, he did so at age 30 with Carson Kitchen, Kerry Simon’s hip new venture at Downtown Project’s refurbished John E. Carson hotel building.
How did your first job as executive chef come about? I’ve been working for Kerry Simon for about seven years now. It was time, after a lot of hard work and dedication, and [partner] Cory Harwell and him taking a chance on someone who’s never been an executive chef before.
Where were you before? I went to culinary school from 2006-2007. I had never worked in a kitchen before that. Out of culinary school, I did my internship at Kerry’s restaurant in Los Angeles. I was there for three years. Then I worked for Wolfgang Puck for three to four months. On a day off here, I met with Kerry at Simon, he said he needed cooks, I moved here one month later, and here I am 3½ years later.
What was the biggest change in becoming an executive chef? Just going through the whole process of hiring and organization of the kitchen, food costing, recipe testing, everything. It was a lot to take in all at once, but I was a sous chef at Simon in Palms Place under Kerry’s brother, and he was helpful showing me more of the business side of restaurants.
What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve faced so far? Getting the whole kitchen organized and figuring out what we really need and what it’s going to take. Our walk-in is upstairs; Our dry storage is upstairs. We have a dumbwaiter, but it’s not working yet. Just getting in here finally after the restaurant was built to see the functionality of it … we legitimately got in here five days before we opened.
How much of the menu is yours? It’s all of ours, Kerry, Cory and me. It was a partnership. We did several testings for Kerry, and he gave us his feedback. The good thing is that we are all on the same page. Fifteen to 20 items on this menu we collectively agreed on from the outset.
What’s been the best part of opening Carson Kitchen? The reception we’ve received and seeing how proud Kerry is of what we’ve put together. We’ve been really dedicated and put in a lot of work.
What are your favorite menu items at Carson Kitchen? My favorite is the gyro taco—it’s really great. The bacon jam is awesome. I love chimichurri sauce, so anything with chimichurri, like our chicken thighs. Our rabbit ragu, too. It’s just really cool to do something different.
How does Carson Kitchen stand out in such a competitive environment, especially being new? We’re keeping the menu really creative. The competition keeps us on our toes. We’re changing the menu every two months, coming up with new ideas and thinking outside the box. Do simple, good food, but with a twist. It’s comfortable. You want to feel like you’re having dinner at Kerry’s house.
What do you think about Downtown? I think Downtown is great. It’s awesome that they’re redoing it. There are a lot of restaurants opening up down here in the next year, even a block or two away. It’s a good culture change.