You may have met New Pi’s Culinary Team in the November & December Catalyst, but get the extended introduction with Matt, Chef at New Pi Cedar Rapids, here:
If you’ve been paying attention to food in Iowa, Lincoln Cafe in Mount Vernon must have been on your radar (it was even on Oprah’s!). Owner and executive chef Matt Steigerwald closed Lincoln Café’s doors with the close of 2013, after 12 years of awesome food – and 3 James Beard Semifinalist nominations – stating that he was seeking new adventures. We couldn’t be more excited that they turned out to be with us!
Matt Steigerwald at Lincoln Cafe, now Chef at New Pi Cedar Rapids – Image credit: Robyn Aaron | www.robynphoto.com
Heading up the kitchen and prepared foods at New Pi Cedar Rapids is a big shift in scale from the restaurant business. “Have I said how much I love grocery stores in general?” Matt asks. “I always do the shopping in our house and I love to look at cool new products and foods.”
Matt grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and always gravitated towards the kitchen: “My mom and dad were avid cooks and the kitchen was the center of a very fun home, with five brothers and a sister.”
High school and college jobs always pulled Matt into kitchens as well. When he was maintaining trails on the Appalachian Trail as a volunteer (and taking the opportunity to evaluate his life direction), “I naturally fell into the cook role.” Sometimes a life direction just makes itself obvious.
One’s skills are usually a product of nature and nurture: “People talk about culinary school, but I think there are better ways to go if you can find the right people,” he points out. Matt headed to Chapel Hill and worked with some of the best: “Chapel Hill was a hotbed for great chefs starting the southern food revolution: the legacy of recently-passed Bill Neal of Crook’s Corner was a great influence, and I worked for Ben Barker when he opened the Magnolia Grill,” one of the first Southern restaurants to get great write-ups in glossy food magazines.
Matt’s wife Michelle’s Victorian Literature teaching position at Cornell College brought them to Mount Vernon, and the rest is history. Lincoln Café’s motto sums up his food philosophy: Food is Important. “Making sure we’re putting an importance on food, what it tastes like – take a minute to think about it – and making sure we enjoy the time we’re spending cooking and eating every day,” is a priority. “If you’re paying attention to food’s importance and flavor, ‘local’ falls right into place.”
Matt’s Food Reads
Matt has thousands of cookbooks – and has helped with few, including recipe testing for Not Afraid of Flavor: Recipes from Magnolia Grill by Ben & Karen Barker, which strongly influenced Matt’s cooking.
Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes by Andrea Reusing is “a beautiful, award-winning book, not strictly of recipes – stories, cooking with kids; a fantastic book.”
2-4PM Saturday, March 7:
Stop by the Grand Opening at New Pi Cedar Rapids today (https://www.facebook.com/events/958752080836898/) for a taste of Matt's famous Pork Belly!