Pop culture has never been so tipsy on celebrity chefs as it is today. Like a potent cocktail of reality tv, insta-stars and countless coffee table books, we drink it all in like the culture parched crowd we’ve come to be. But what do we really understand about these people, these culinary bigwigs, apart from their shiny 2D faces on tv and their names plastered across our Sunday magazines?
I was going to start this piece by saying ‘we all know Matt Moran’. I would have said that ‘to some of you he’s the face of good, honest food in Australia, the chef from tv with the neighbourly smile. For others he’s the guy that owns a plethora of destination restaurants, the ones we label ‘bucketlist’ or ‘special occasion’ like ARIA and Chiswick’. I would have gone on to explain that ‘to people like my mum, Matt Moran is a household name, the chef with a natural green thumb and the author of go-to cookbooks to keep on the shelf’.
All these things are probably true, but I’m not really sure that means we know Matt Moran.
I always think of celebrities as duplicitous, as characters that need to double deal their lives just to reserve some kind of skerrick of privacy for themselves and their families. Some slice of sanity away from the hoard of drooling masses. So, when I’d watched Matt on Masterchef or Paddock to Plate with his warm, inviting demeanor and all his morally good nuts and bolts, I just assumed he would not be like that in real life. That he couldn’t be.
A few months before I started Meet The People I ran into him at his popular beachside restaurant, North Bondi Fish. Since moving to Bondi I’d dedicated a good chunk of my salary to checking out every angle of its wine list and was obviously doing a good job of it at the time. Matt pulled up a seat with myself and a friend and without really even asking we chatted about his life growing up on a dairy farm and later his struggles to find a job as a chef in his teenage years. There was no censoring; no taboo topics. He recalled his first food memory of his father slaughtering a lamb and him having to carry the offal back to the homestead at the young age of three.
Intermittently patrons would turn up at our side and gush with how much they’d enjoyed themselves, while Matt would graciously lean over, shake their hands like an old friend would, and thank them for coming. For Matt, there seemed nothing more gratifying than people truly savouring their time in his restaurants.
We drank more wine and he let me be obnoxious and tell him all about my concept for Meet The People and how I believed that individuals are integral to the restaurant experience. He either conferred or humoured me, but either way agreed to do an interview at a later date. My preconceived celebrity perceptions of him were now obviously put to rest.
Now, over a year later I’m sitting with Matt in his Woollahra restaurant, Chiswick. He’s a little bit late but I forgive him. I’m one of four interviews and photoshoots he has today alongside all the other things he’s got on the burner. But of course, he’s completely unfazed, so comfortable with the camera its clicks and mechanics simply fade into the background unheard. I guess you might think that if you’ve spent over 30 years of your life serving people, you inevitably learn to turn the charm on for everyone, not just those tucked into a table. But the thing about Matt Moran is, there’s no flick of the switch, this is just him.
“I’ve always had the thing, whenever I’ve done anything on TV or any interviews, I’m myself, y’know and I just talk. From day one when I did My Restaurant Rules and they tried to produce me I was like “No. I’ll be myself because I don’t want to be a different person on screen than what I am in real life and I’ve always made that very clear,” he says.
Matt is overly enthusiastic for our interview, a little bit cheeky and ready to get stuck in. I shouldn’t be surprised, everything he does he delivers on. He even gets involved in directing shots and moving props for a ‘better angle’, walking us through every square foot of his self-grown veggie garden. I’ve actually never met someone that so visibly invests their energy into every inch of their life. It’s not just food either, it’s his children, his staff, the local community around him. One glimpse of his instagram and you’ll constantly see him getting behind local cafes near his home in Gordon’s Bay and the surrounding Eastern Suburbs. You’ll see him cooking at home everyday, anything from fresh Barramundi to smoked duck or creamy blueberry cheesecake which he whips up with his daughter.
His own eagerness for his craft is enviable and undoubtedly the core of his success.
“I think with anything in life if you love it, it’s kind of easy – it’s a famous saying. Find something you love in life and you’ll never have to work another day. I truly believe that, it’s the same with a lot of the other guys (chefs) the Guilliam’s and Fassnidge’s, y’know, they were poor families, thrown into work and they fell in love with it. Nowadays yes, there is so much more exposure, but what people don’t understand is that it’s actually physically really hard work. You’re on your feet for fifteen or sixteen hours a day. This life takes hard work and you have to love it.”
I guess none of us really ‘know’ celebrities, we just get what media force feeds us and tend to run with it like it’s a sport. That’s not to say I haven’t met some below average celebs, we probably all have. But after meeting Matt, I can guarantee you, above all his notoriety and all the food and all the tv shows, if you get the chance he’s the one you want to meet, because Matt Moran is the absolute real deal.
All images Daryl Kong