This is part one of Holly Fann's Chef's Choice profile of Matthew Daughaday of Taste. Part two, a Q&A, will be published tomorrow, and part three, a recipe from Daughaday, will be available on Thursday.
Family dinner was an experience that happened at home, every night, at 6 p.m. when Taste (4584 Laclede Avenue; 314-361-1200) Executive Chef Matthew Daughaday was growing up in University City.
"My mom actually had a cow bell that she would ring from our back porch at dinner time," Daughaday says. "We'd be playing in the park and when we heard the bell we came home."
As he got older, Daughaday would cook, "what we thought were fancy dinners," with his high school friends.
Smiling, he remembers, "We made what we thought was sophisticated back then. We had wine and everything."
But his early love of cooking didn't suggest a career to him until after he attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where he studied English education. During a stint preparing to-go meals at an organic food store in Durango he realized he wanted "to work with food every day."
After moving back to St. Louis, Daughaday enrolled in the culinary program at Forest Park Community College. Like many culinary arts students, he snagged a cooking gig on the side and wound up working full-time at Luciano's Trattoria (172 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton; 314-863-9969) -- and putting school on hold.
Two years later, he enrolled in the California Culinary Academy, where he received his culinary degree. After working in San Francisco at restaurants including Water Bar, Daughaday decided to extern in St. Louis and was accepted at Niche (1831 Sidney Street; 314-773-7755).
"I held Gerard (Craft) and Niche in high esteem, so when I was able to extern there it was huge for me," says Daughaday. When his externship was completed, he was invited to stay on as a line cook at Niche; a few years later, he was promoted to sous chef.
Moving to Taste afforded Daughaday his first opportunity to come into his own as a chef. Though it was his first such position, Daughaday's philosophies about cooking and dining were already well established. While discussing cooking a perfectly tender beef tongue for a new menu item at Taste, Daughaday explains, "I like to set little challenges for myself -- I can make this or that better. I can try to make it as perfect as possible."
While recalling a dining experience in New York City at Torrisi, he says it's, "the best meal I've had in recent memory," and embodies a philosophy he also shares: "Something familiar but with a creative twist."
During Gut Check's visit to Taste, we could hear Daughaday sternly expediting over the packed crowd and the din of the cocktail shakers -- "I need [those] scallops now!" It's doubtful one will ever hear Daughaday scream at a server, see him throw a pan at a cook's head or do anything that might seen intentionally provocative. Instead, it's Daughaday's sincerity for cooking for patrons and exceptional talent that makes him both noteworthy now and worth keeping an eye on in the future.
"For me, what I see is wrong with a lot of what people do who first get into cooking, is that they want to do the types of things we did at Niche -- ya know, they want to use all these cool ingredients and all these fun techniques, but they don't think about the fact [that] it all comes down to the fact [that] the food has to be something people enjoy. It has to be good from the very beginning to the very end."