Although he admits it’s a cliché, Matt Davidson’s fascination with cooking started when he was helping his mom in the kitchen. Later on, he started to pursue an academic career but after a year in university, he realized that it wasn’t for him. He waived his scholarships and went to culinary school. As it turned out, he’d found the path that he continues to follow to this day.
Canadian Chefs: Matt Davidson, Añejo and Blanco Cantina, Calgary AB
Chef Matt Davidson brings the traditional flavours of Mexico and the American Southwest to Calgary with his diverse cuisine at Añejo and Blanco Cantina.
Chef Matt Davidson
As a dish washer at the age of thirteen, Davidson says, “I was in the dish pit, all moist and soggy, looking at the line cooks and thinking that it was really cool to do what they were doing and that would be such an awesome place to be one day.”
During his internship, Davidson met his first mentor, Chris who coached him and taught him that there was more to being a chef than just cooking every day. Davidson learned that being a chef could remain interesting and be fun for many reasons.
Classical French cuisine was Davidson’s initial area of interest, but cooking at Añejo has opened his eyes to the diversity of cuisines from around the world. He wants bring exposure to less known types of cuisine. He says, “Añejo is traditional Mexican restaurant so I’ve done research trips down to Guadalajara, for example, to bring back real Mexican recipes for people to try. Blanco is real Tex-Mex food and not the stuff we think of in Canada.”
Creating dishes has become a matter of incorporating traditional Mexican flavours and ideas into cuisine that North American palates will still appreciate. Davidson adds, “New menus involve research trips to different regions of Mexico or down to Houston, eating at other restaurants and seeing what everybody else is doing. We don’t try to emulate it but we want to put a new, fresh spin on something that people have seen before.”
One of the elements of Mexican cuisine that most fascinates the chef are the many regional types of mole sauce. Although many people go to traditional molerias in Mexico and buy ready-made sauce, Davidson created his own scratch-made mole recipe that incorporates a wide variety of different ingredients to put his unique spin on it.
Signature guacamole: fresh avocado, tomato, onion, cilantro, salt blend, lime juice, jalapeño.
Chicken mole: seared supreme of chicken, Oaxacan mole sauce, Mexican rice, micro cilantro
Ingredient sourcing revolves around quality for Davidson. Mexican cuisine uses a large amount of seafood so he’s had to work hard to find high-quality, reliable sources for it in Alberta. He also finds it a challenge to source authentic Mexican ingredients. He says, “It’s about finding smaller companies that will offer you the better ingredients. I work with the suppliers to find what would work best and try to get the most authentic flavours.”
Organization is a trait that Davidson considers crucial for a chef to have. He’s come to realize that as chefs take on management roles, it becomes important to focus on keeping everything running smoothly in the business aspects of the restaurant.
The second trait that Davidson emphasizes is passion. He says, “Without passion,why are you doing this terrible job? You need to be able to wake up every day and actually want to go to work. If you aren’t passionate about it, this industry isn’t for you!”
Passion is the first thing that Davidson looks for in the people he hires for his kitchen team. He says, “When you’re hiring a sous chef, for example, if you’re not worried about them getting you fired because they’re better at your job than you are, you’re not hiring the right people. I look for people who are going to be receptive to that training and actually care about the food they’re putting out.”
Inspiration and motivation come from his customers for Davidson. His current role allows him to spend time interacting with guests and getting their feedback. He explains, “I enjoy it when someone tells me that this is the best meal they’ve ever had in their life or mentions being in a small town in Mexico and having a dish that they think we should try on the menu. People who take an interest in what you’re doing and enjoy themselves are a motivation for me.”
Chile relleno: Roasted poblano pepper, goat cheese + green chile stuffing, saffron rice, cinnamon-scented tomato sauce