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Matt Basile: Taking it out onto the street

  • Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sun, October 19, 2014 | 01:52 pm
Matt Basile: Taking it out onto the street Gastronome: Matt Basile, the Rebel in the Kitchen, also blogs under the moniker Fidel Gastro. (Courtesy of Fidel Gastro)" border="0" height="400" width="600">Gastronome: Matt Basile, the Rebel in the Kitchen, also blogs under the moniker Fidel Gastro. (Courtesy of Fidel Gastro)

The phenomenal Fidel Gastro is what happened when Matt Basile left his mundane life as a corporate man and started a pop-up craze in North America.

With the catchy name of his alter ego and his knack of breaking common rules (in the cooking and foodie business) Matt traveled along the coast in his food truck to popularize street food.

“Back home a food truck is new but so is street food. We’re still trying to get people to appreciate street food. Street food doesn’t have to be hotdogs. Street food can also be home-cooked meals. There is so much to offer,” said the 30-year-old self-taught chef.

Matt was in Jakarta recently to promote the second season of his food show, Rebel Without a Kitchen, which airs on the Asian Food Channel.

As a Canadian of Italian descent, Matt grew up being indulged by his maternal grandparents’ cooking.

He always loved to cook but denied his calling at first, although many people had suggested he become a chef.

Three years ago he opened his business in a food truck and at night used the kitchen of a friend, who was a butcher, to prepare his signature Extremo Sandwiches.

“The idea of the Extremo Sandwich is putting in things you do not necessarily put in sandwiches,” he said, adding that beef short-ribs combined with spicy kimchi made a good sandwich.

His business boomed as people bought his unique approach to cooking so that besides his food truck Priscilla, Matt now has the Lisa Marie Restaurant.

And where is Elvis?

“It started as a kind of a joke. At my early attempts at pop-up I needed something to attract people to come to the table. There was a knick-knack store across the street and I bought this Elvis statue. People loved it, they took selfies with it, so it somehow kind of stuck and I bring it with me to every event. As the business grew, I thought I just have to incorporate the Elvis theme into everything.”

One of his signature desserts is Elvis in a Jar, made up of rum French toast with maple syrup, peanut butter cream and bananas — without bacon for his guests at a dinner for clients and the media at the Bacco restaurant in the Lotte Shopping Avenue in South Jakarta.

Matt served his own interpretation of North American cuisine, a refined version of street food which he paired with The Balvenie, a uniquely handcrafted range of single-malt Scotch whiskies.

Although he had prepared similar menus on his previous visits to Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia, each time there were slight differences in the food flavors depending on local availability of certain ingredients.

At work: Matt Basile at work during a culinary field trip to the Philly Night Market in Philadelphia in the US. (Courtesy of Fidel Gastro)

Gastronome: Matt Basile, the Rebel in the Kitchen, also blogs under the moniker Fidel Gastro. (Courtesy of Fidel Gastro)

The phenomenal Fidel Gastro is what happened when Matt Basile left his mundane life as a corporate man and started a pop-up craze in North America.

With the catchy name of his alter ego and his knack of breaking common rules (in the cooking and foodie business) Matt traveled along the coast in his food truck to popularize street food.

'€œBack home a food truck is new but so is street food. We'€™re still trying to get people to appreciate street food. Street food doesn'€™t have to be hotdogs. Street food can also be home-cooked meals. There is so much to offer,'€ said the 30-year-old self-taught chef.

Matt was in Jakarta recently to promote the second season of his food show, Rebel Without a Kitchen, which airs on the Asian Food Channel.

As a Canadian of Italian descent, Matt grew up being indulged by his maternal grandparents'€™ cooking.

He always loved to cook but denied his calling at first, although many people had suggested he become a chef.

Three years ago he opened his business in a food truck and at night used the kitchen of a friend, who was a butcher, to prepare his signature Extremo Sandwiches.

'€œThe idea of the Extremo Sandwich is putting in things you do not necessarily put in sandwiches,'€ he said, adding that beef short-ribs combined with spicy kimchi made a good sandwich.

His business boomed as people bought his unique approach to cooking so that besides his food truck Priscilla, Matt now has the Lisa Marie Restaurant.

And where is Elvis?

'€œIt started as a kind of a joke. At my early attempts at pop-up I needed something to attract people to come to the table. There was a knick-knack store across the street and I bought this Elvis statue. People loved it, they took selfies with it, so it somehow kind of stuck and I bring it with me to every event. As the business grew, I thought I just have to incorporate the Elvis theme into everything.'€

One of his signature desserts is Elvis in a Jar, made up of rum French toast with maple syrup, peanut butter cream and bananas '€” without bacon for his guests at a dinner for clients and the media at the Bacco restaurant in the Lotte Shopping Avenue in South Jakarta.

Matt served his own interpretation of North American cuisine, a refined version of street food which he paired with The Balvenie, a uniquely handcrafted range of single-malt Scotch whiskies.

Although he had prepared similar menus on his previous visits to Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia, each time there were slight differences in the food flavors depending on local availability of certain ingredients.

At work: Matt Basile at work during a culinary field trip to the Philly Night Market in Philadelphia in the US. (Courtesy of Fidel Gastro)At work: Matt Basile at work during a culinary field trip to the Philly Night Market in Philadelphia in the US. (Courtesy of Fidel Gastro)
'€œI just have to be flexible. The main thing about being a chef is that you need to have the palette to understand how flavors come together. I understand flavors better,'€ he said.

His palette set him apart from other chefs and made it easier for him to learn about people and their cultures.

At his first encounter with a Padang restaurant in Jakarta, instead of going for the meat dishes he opted for the eggplant dish cooked with green chili paste.

'€œI'€™ve never had anything like it before. The green sambal [chili paste] is not as spicy as the red one, but it has natural flavors. We asked for more sambal and ended up putting it on all other dishes.'€

He was also impressed by the use of coconut milk in the dishes that '€œholds all elements together'€ and learned that rice was essential to the whole meal.

From his travels, the most amazing experience he had was in Manila, where he was taken to a restaurant in a fish market where they were asked to buy the raw seafood first and then decided on how they wanted it to be cooked.

'€œThe food was good, too. Even if it was not, it'€™s already a memorable experience.'€

He has recounted a lot of memorable stories about the places, people and food in Street Food Diaries '€” released in October '€” a unique cook book he has written about his travels with the TV show that matches his free-spirited style.

Matt wrote the book together with life partner Kyla Zanardi, who is also a food photographer.

For start-ups, he has suggested some tips that include thorough research on the legal aspects and the climate of the industry one wishes to leap into.

'€œThe important thing is to know how big the impact on other people or your family [will be] before you make the massive jump. The other thing is to be prepared to work every day.'€

Stepping out of the safe zone into unknown territory was the scariest thing he ever experienced, but hard work and perseverance, along with the right marketing strategy, eventually paid off.

'€œIf you think of a menu that appeals to everyone, it actually appeals to no one. Make a focused concept, have people buy into it. When I go into business, I do it in my own way, my own terms. This whole business is based and built on doing something in a different way.'€

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