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The Great Unifier

Dominique Saint Malo | February 17, 2022

People

Matt Abdoo knows food has the unique ability to connect and uplift people. It’s something he learned at a young age and saw repeatedly reconfirmed throughout his culinary career. He calls this the “power of food,” and every meal he cooks is a celebration of that power. “Humanity so deeply needs to remember that there is one thing connecting us all, and it’s our need to eat.” Matt sees this power of food everywhere, and his life has been dedicated to sharing it with those around him.

Matt is a pioneer of “yankee-style barbeque” (a term he coined for pushing the bounds of traditional barbeque), but his culinary exploration started long before his time as an award-winning pit master. From his Italian-Lebanese family’s kitchen, to his freshman dorm’s kitchenette, to his time at a number of prestigious restaurants, Matt is a classically trained chef whose list of diverse culinary accomplishments is a departure from anything “low and slow.”

Finding Inspiration In Community

“I get inspiration from so many different things,” Matt says, as he shares some of the most meaningful moments from his culinary journey. He knew early on that he wanted to go to culinary school. Growing up, his parents would let him go grocery shopping and try out cooking at home, and at 15, he began more formal training at central New York State’s Café CaNole. It was there that some of his most influential mentors took him under their wing. While the seed had been planted long ago through his family’s “big-warm-hug” meals, Café CaNole was where he learned that cooking was truly his calling.

But culinary school wasn’t Matt’s first stop after high school. His father wanted to give his four sons the legacy of advanced education, and since owning a restaurant was Matt’s dream, he saw the benefits of earning his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration first. Needless to say, Matt was still cooking the entire time. “My desire to go to culinary school never changed. And freshman year, I even made a name for myself,” he remembers fondly. “I was making baked ziti dinners for the entire floor on one of those state college kitchenette things. It was hysterical and I just loved cooking.”

Humanity so deeply needs to remember that there is one thing connecting us all, and it’s our need to eat.

Matt Abdoo

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Matt graduated as valedictorian from the Culinary Institute of America, and dove right into the culinary world. He made a name for himself once again, this time in fine dining. He cooked at restaurants like Pigalle and Marco in Boston, Il Ricchi and Il Rossellino in Italy, and Del Posto Restaurant in New York City, where he was made Chef di Cuisine after just two years. With those experiences behind him, Matt is deeply (and gladly) entrenched in both the business and craft of food, cultivating a sense of balance that proves integral to how he moves through the world. “You can’t not be in both sides,” he says. “It’s about the business and also the quality of the hospitality and experience.”

Staying True to His Vision

Matt knows the importance of adding his own flavor too. He honors the soul of a classic dish while also adding his own spin to it: “Whenever I’m cooking, I want to be able to put a little bit of myself within it.” His journey into barbeque is a fantastic example of this mindset. When a barbeque hobby turned into an award-winning passion at local barqecue contests as well as the World Series Barbecue Competition (where his team, on their first appearance, won first prize in Poultry and second in Whole Hog), Matt knew he couldn’t limit himself to the regional definitions of barbeque; like all cooking, barbeque has its rules, but there is also so much to experiment with. “Who’s to say I can’t take my love of salsa verde and put that on top of an incredibly smoked brisket and put that into taco form?” he asks. He values presenting a guest with an ode to classic barbeque, but he also makes dishes like citrus-marinated mojo ribs, with both his Mojo Rojo and Mojo Verde sauces.

Fortunately for the rest of us, these experiments have been deliciously successful and Matt is looking to bring classic yet unique flavor to folks around the country. In 2020, he partnered with the makers of Lloyd’s® barbeque products, the No. 1 selling heat-and-serve barbeque in America, who launched a pecan-smoked pulled pork and hardwood-smoked chicken, both made with Matt’s two-time World Barbecue Sauce champion Pig Beach Mustard BBQ Sauce. They can be found in select retailers nationwide, but if you can’t find them at your local store, you can find them at one of Matt’s restaurants.

Located in Brooklyn and soon Queens, and also in West Palm Beach, Fla., Pig Beach is a massive source of pride for Matt, and it’s one of his main focuses today. This is because he is devoted not just to what his guests eat, but how they feel when visiting his restaurant. “I would love to leave behind the legacy of being affiliated with a place where someone is able to join us and create a true memory in time,” he says. “I want them to say ‘wow, I had a great experience there.’” At Pig Beach, Matt actively celebrates his combined love of great food and cherished moments in life. But this should come as no surprise. Matt is eager to bond with guests and peers alike throughout his culinary endeavors, again demonstrating his talent for finding meaning in food, and making sure, as with any dish, that there’s enough to go around.

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