Q & A With Heirloom-LA Chef/Co-Owner Matthew Poley: Lasagna Cupcakes, Cooking in Umbria, Success and Love In a Bowl of Pasta
J. Koslow Matthew Poley of Heirloom-LA
Born and raised in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Matthew Poley watched hours of cooking shows while his athletic brother delved into sports and scholastics. His grandmother took notice and began giving Poley the yearly Christmas gift he most looked forward to -- a new cooking device. At age 7 he was making grilled cheese on grandma's gifted electric flat top, and by 20 he had staged at the then three-Michelin star Casa Vissani in Umbria, and returned to work under the tutelage of Gino Angelini of Angelini Osteria. Now, at 27, Matthew Poley is the owner of a rapidly growing catering business, Heirloom-LA.
Turn the page for our interview with Poley, and check back for part two and a recipe from the chef. You'll discover Poley's passion for catering, his process behind creating the lasagna cupcake, how love can be found in a bowl of homemade pasta, and to what he attributes his business' success. One indication that needs no discussion is a visual one; a tattoo resembling the logo for Fox's 24 on the arch between his thumb and index finger of his left hand. If Jack Bauer doesn't need to sleep to complete his assignment, why would Poley?
J. Koslow Matthew "Jack Bauer" Poley at the helm
SI: Heirloom-LA is responsible for the lasagna cupcake, which J. Gold recently praised as a 'great invention.'
SI: Let's jump right in then. How did you come up with it.
MP: I'm always thinking of how I can cater food in portable portions and I liked the challenge of figuring out how to eat lasagna by hand. And there you have it -- the lasagna cupcake was born. They are always made with fresh pasta that we roll with a hand crank. No motorized machines are used in order to keep the pasta yellow. That way there's no oxidization. They're at the Pasadena Intelligentsia and can be found at Silverlake Wine ($7 per piece) with our whole line of frozen pasta, and ordered online ($42 for 6). To this day, the Smoked Mac n' Cheese is still my favorite.
SI: Speaking of Intelligentsia Pasadena, Heirloom-LA's collaboration is a big deal. How did that come about?
MP: I love Intelligentsia Coffee and can't imagine a better group to team up with. When Tara and I lived in Silverlake, we'd go over to that Intelligentsia location and bring food to our friends who worked there. Whether it was left-overs from a catering gig or lasagna cupcakes, it was always our way of sharing with the community. When some of them went to open the Pasadena store and decided there would be a food component, I was fortunate that they thought of me. It is an outlet for exactly what we like to do for catering. The menu changes daily, we cook what sounds good, we sell out, and start over the next day. Its like an Iron Chef America competition every morning at 6am at our kitchen.
SI: You mentioned Tara. She's your business partner, correct? How did you two meet?
MP: After three years of working for Gino at Angelini Osteria and La Terza [now closed], I helped to open All'Angelo. Tara was the pastry chef there.
SI: Sounds like I'm about to hear a love story and I'm a sucker for them. Especially when it involves food...
MP: It does involve food. We were cleaning cuttlefish. If anyone has ever cleaned cuttlefish, you'll know, it's a gross job. But with her there it was actually fun. I asked her out, and time and again she turned me down. Then one night we were out and we were hungry. Instead of a taco stand, I decided to make her pasta. I looked in my fridge. Two eggs. Bacon. I was rolling very slim back then. I had my favorite sautÃ© pan and a couple of mixing bowls. I made a maltagilati (poorly cut pasta) carbonara and let me tell you....it worked. People can fall in love over a bowl of homemade pasta. This is proof.
J.Koslow Hungry for Lasagna Cupcakes?
SI: If cleaning cuttlefish is fun then it is indeed love...So why did you decide to start a catering business instead of a restaurant?
MP: I've worked in restaurants and with catering companies since I was 13. While I was in culinary school I cooked at a catering company called Continental Catering. Think of it as a Wolfgang Puck or Patina Catering. They had all their own rentals and office building. Coming in very green, I saw how the system worked, who was important to what role. It was fascinating.
But, even before Continental Catering, I was throwing parties, be it tailgating, cooking over bonfires, or late night deep fryer nights. I didn't realize that it all counted as catering. While I love being on the line, I really love that with catering there is an interaction and dialogue, sometimes unspoken, between the eaters and myself. In catering, we get to make daily specials and are forced to change our menus every day. We know exactly how many people we need to cook for and exactly how much they want to spend before we even start prepping. No waste, no 86-ing.
SI: And how did Heirloom-LA start?
MP: At the time, I was the executive chef at Michael's in Long Beach. I was driving to Long Beach from LA every day. I just knew I wanted to start catering and asked Tara to do it with me.
So, Heirloom as a company started two years ago, and last June we went full time. At first we were doing very small parties. Tara was working full time at Cake Monkey and I was still at Michael's. I did a fair amount of groundwork so that we could eventually leave our jobs, and I knew that Tara would, and does, play a huge roll. The photos, all the desserts, the social networking, she wears a lot of hats well.