Man of many hats settles for a big one this fall
By Adela Talbot
August 22, 2013
At one point in his life, Matthew Yeo wore two hats.
Living in Okotoks, Alta., at the time, the 37-year-old Western residence chef was a volunteer firefighter, working at a golf course by day.
“I had a mid-life crisis in my 20s,” laughed Yeo, soon to be the head chef at the new Richard Ivey Building on Western Road. “I moved to Alberta and went to firefighting school, settled there for a couple of years. I used to cook for the fire fighters all the time, and they said to me, ‘You make a better cook than a firefighter,’ – jokingly, of course.
“After, I started falling in love with food, all over again, and started branching out.”
Growing up with home-cooked meals and full Sunday dinners, Yeo first fell in love with food when he was a child. It didn’t take long for him to start emulating his father, who prepared most of the meals at home.
“Even when I was a kid, I was cooking for myself. When I was 8, I was cooking spaghetti,” Yeo said.
“Tradition for me was Sunday meals; we always had a good meal on Sunday. I try to imitate that at home, and for me, you still can’t beat a good roast beef dinner with all the fixings,” he added, noting the element of comfort and tradition motivates his cooking on campus and at home.
Originally from Bowmanville, Ont., Yeo went to culinary school at Georgian College and came to Western four years ago via the hotel and restaurant business. He was a sous chef at the Delta Armories in London from 2005-09, having previously worked at a casual fine dining restaurant on Granville Island in Vancouver, and the golf course in Alberta. He worked as the chef at Western’s Perth Hall residence for a year, moving on to Sydenham Hall, and this fall, over to Ivey.
“I needed a change. I always get the four-, five-year itch where I need to switch it up,” Yeo said. “It was an easy transition. I got along with all the people here and since I’ve been here, I’ve totally enjoyed my time. The university’s been good to me.”
And since he’s been here, Western has kept Yeo busy, challenged and entertained. He’s had the opportunity to represent the university as a chef at various competitions and events, having gone to the Culinary Institute of America – the ‘Harvard of cooking schools’ and learning about the global street food movement and American regional cuisine.
Just this summer, Yeo represented both the university and the province at the annual Canadian College and University Food Service Conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, where his team won gold and the People’s Choice awards in the Surf n’ Turf culinary competition. Among the judges was celebrity chef Michael Smith.
“My parents always cooked and I try to bring that to the students here as much as I can. I try to imitate some of the best restaurants and put it into one. And comfort food, soul food, is my style. It’s what I was raised on and what I’ve always done,” he said.
“What Ivey will have is like an upscale cafeteria – different stations will have sandwiches, a pizza oven, a stir fry area, pasta bar, grill section. I’d like to see people come in there and say that’s a great sandwich and that’s a great pizza slice. I want to have the best food on campus – that’s what I look forward to.”
Yeo will be working with three cooks and a handful of servers once he starts at Ivey this fall. Regardless of where on campus he has worked, he said the freedom to create has followed him, adding it has been the job aspect he has enjoyed the most. At Ivey, there’s an added bonus, too.
“For any chef to say they have a Monday-Friday job is unreal. It’s definitely one of the perks,” he said. “This (transition) was something that I needed. I wanted to try something new and exciting.”
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