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9 Questions with Matt Ginn

Executive Chef of EVO, Chebeague Island Inn, and 58 Culinary

What’s your earliest memory of food?

I remember having this babysitter who was a pretty good cook, and she’d make my grilled cheese in a very specific way, with lots of butter on both sides of the bread. My mother made me a grilled cheese one day and I was like, “This isn’t right!” I quickly realized how particular I was about food, and I started cooking for myself at a really young age because of it.

What was one of your first food jobs?

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, I started working summers at Maxwell’s Farm. My dad would drop me off at 5:30 in the morning and I’d pick berries until 9:30 am. They were 40 cents a quart then, and I can’t say I didn’t eat one for every berry I picked—I would have made a lot more money if I wasn’t snacking so much.

What do you love most about being a chef in Maine?

Cooking in Maine is unique because of the wonderful products we have here. Although some seasons are very short—things like stone fruit and anything in the nightshade family—our exposure is something special, and so are the relationships. I know many farmers on a first name basis, and there are several I’ve bought produce from for EVO's entire eight-year existence.

What’s your cooking philosophy?

I think cooking is about being in the moment, and that goes back to embracing things like strawberries with a very short season. When those ingredients are in season, I try to use them as much as I can. It might only be for three or four weeks, but while it’s there, it’s in its peak form which allows you to utilize it to the fullest. There are other products, like apples, that have a longer season. That’s great, and it doesn’t make it any less special—in fact, it allows you to explore and cook with them a little longer. Staying hyper seasonal and in-the-moment is key to my food philosophy.

How does your competitive spirit benefit you in the kitchen?

Being competitive is a great character trait because it brings out your best. If you’re competitive, you want to succeed, and in environments like the kitchen, where you’re dealing with hard timelines and tight scheduling, you need a certain level of competitiveness just to operate at such a high level. Competitiveness in the kitchen also helps me as a teacher and a mentor, because I want to show my young cooks that you should strive to be better each day. Every time you’re approaching a task with redundancy—say, for example, a butchering project—you should try to do it faster, because that’s what makes you a stronger chef. Being competitive gives you a higher level of confidence and allows you to approach things knowing you’re going to get better each time you do it. It’s a good spirit to impart into your team.

Do you cook at home?

Even when I was on the line five nights a week, I would still cook at home one or two nights, and now it’s more like three or four. Sometimes it might be a very quick meal, like last night we had chicken tacos. It wasn’t a very elaborate dinner—I used leftover roasted chicken from a couple of days ago, added some pinto beans, and made a quick pico de gallo and guacamole. It was something that I put together in 30 minutes, but it was still authentic cooking. So yes, I cook a lot, and I embrace it. I love cooking for my friends and family.

If you could prepare a meal for anyone, who would it be and why?

My initial answer is my wife and two children, but maybe a meal that isn’t rushed with sports and activities—one that I can prepare leisurely. My next answer would be my grandparents, on both my mother’s and father’s side, who passed away years ago. I’d like to show them the chef I’ve become today.

Of everything you’ve accomplished in food and beverage, what are you most proud of?

The coaching, the mentoring, the growth of people around me, and the personal growth I’ve had as a chef because of the people. I have more patience today than I did ten years ago, and that’s a combination of me learning from those I’m working with, but also me learning how to be a better coach, leader, and mentor.

Which was more exciting, winning Chopped or being named the Lobster Chef of the Year?

Definitely Lobster Chef of the Year. There are a lot more Chopped champions out there than Lobster Chefs of the Year!

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