I’ve become stupidly obsessed with the show Chopped on the Food Network. I have no idea why, but it soothes my soul.
And hey, it has kind of sparked my interest in cooking and food, which was never a huge part of my life. Like for instance, I now know what “frisee” is (hey ma … look at me, I can cook … kinda, sort of, not really).
So when I got the opportunity to pick the brain of one of Philly’s most well-known executive chefs, Caitlin Mateo from Square 1682, I jumped at the opportunity.
She’s not only talented in the kitchen and stylish (gotta love a girl who adores an all black outfit), but has also overcome hardships and knows how valuable self esteem can be.
So enough from me … please have the pleasure of getting to know Caitlin Mateo a little better.
What is your most beloved piece in your closet right now? BCBG black leather jacket. Every Christmas I buy myself a kick ass BCBG item, and the last 2 years were coats. I love wearing black. All black, or as an accent piece, you just can’t go wrong, and I look pretty bad ass in it.
Describe your style in 4 words: sleek, versatile, bold, effortless
Name a few chefs who inspire you. Iliana Regan, Enrique Olvera, Michel Bras, and the list goes on. There are so many influential chefs in our world.
Tell me a little bit about Square 1682. What is your favorite thing on the menu right now and what would I drink with it? Square1682 is much different now than when it first opened. We’ve evolved and figured out what works for us and who our loyal customers are.
One of my favorites on the menu right now is the octopus. Part of that is the love that goes into preparing the dish. It’s quickly cured, then tenderized for a long time and cooked slowly, then marinated and charred. Served over capsicum puree with crisp peanut potatoes that are confit in duck fat. We finish the dish with shishito peppers and a balsamic reduction. Its flavors come together really well and I would pair it with our Cotes du Rhone blanc.
Do you get inspiration for dishes outside of the kitchen? If so, where? I get inspiration most times out of the kitchen. I can get inspiration while at a farm. I get a lot of inspiration with a clear head when meditating or taking a run. Sometimes I might just look at the clouds and ideas start popping into my head.
I understand you overcame anorexia through your love of cooking, and I think that is beyond amazing. What advice could you give girls in Philly who are suffering from body image disorders, or just don’t have great self esteem? I did overcome that issue, and it was one of the toughest life experiences I’ve been through. Cooking, professionally, taught me how to get over my fear and love to eat food again.
I would tell those girls that (this seems so cliché) what matters in your life really is about the person you are on the inside and the lasting impression you can leave on this world. Be good to your body and your mind and think about what it most important. Also, find a style that helps you feel confident and comfortable with yourself.
What do you like to wear when you cook? Usually I wear jeans or slim black pants. I do wear a chef coat, but I really like to cook in a nice button down blouse.
Do you have a signature dish to make? Can you describe it a bit. It’s funny, I have a lot of signature dishes in the professional kitchen and at home. Every holiday I’m always asked to make spinach lasagna. It’s the simplest dish, but the difference is the fresh pasta and putting a lot of love into every step of making that dish. Seasoning the fresh cheese mix and adding just the right amount of spice to the tomato ragu. People go nuts for it.
How do you feel about cheesesteaks, a Philly fave? And how would you make them even better … and may I please try it You have to love a good Philly cheesesteak. I think each part of the steak needs to be taken into consideration starting with kick ass bread. I’m really into baking bread so I would start there. I also love cheese, especially the stinky ones, so I’d probably make a taleggio sauce to top my sandwich with.
Do you think there is any advantage being a chef in Philly compared to anywhere else? Yes. We have the best of both world’s in terms of fresh and local product with the sea being so close and some really great farms in PA and NJ. We’re also the most up and coming food city right now. The chef/food scene wasn’t even present 10 years ago, and now we have some of the best chefs and restaurants in the nation.
I’ve heard that the culinary world is a bit of a “boys club.” Would you say that is accurate? As I came up as a young cook it definitely was a boys club, but that was 10+ years ago. Not anymore! Women are rocking and rolling in the kitchens and holding their own.
If you could cook with anyone (chef of non-chef) who would it be and why? That’s such a tough question! I would probably pick someone like Tom Robbins (author) or Ray LaMontague (musician) so I could pick their creative brains and have a great discussion. I think it’s important to surround yourself with creativity and get inspiration not just from other chefs but people in all walks of life.
Is it hard having a social life as a chef? Absolutely. It wasn’t as hard before I got married and started a family. Then I had time to go out after work, plan days off with friends, and take day trips. Now my time is dedicated to my family and the kitchen. I rarely make it to a family birthday party, but there’s a certain amount of commitment you have to make to yourself to enjoy those times.
What is your most beloved item in your personal kitchen? Vitamix. We use it for so many things!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Possibly in a more senior role with my company. I would like to get into restaurant and kitchen design and planning (all while cooking of course). I like to travel so there is always possibly of taking a few years and experiencing other cities or countries.