Swift’s Attic. The young, studious chef has cooked at places like Vespaio and Uchi, worked on the corporate side of Kenichi and started supper clubs like the now-defunct Rabbit + Hat. Now you’ll find him inventing a storm of interesting dishes at downtown Swift’s. We sat down with Clouser to talk about dirty dishes, ramps and cannibalism.Mat Clouser is the creative force behind wacky small-plates restaurant
So what got you into the kitchen originally?
In my house growing up, if you helped cook dinner, you didn’t have to wash the dishes. That was a good motivator to learn to cook.
My mom and my dad weren’t very good cooks. My mother has been with her partner now for about 25 years, and she was a great cook. She was big into gardening and came up in the time when everyone was watching Julia Child and was encouraged to cook more at home. So when I was around 12, she started cooking and I started noticing how fresh stuff tasted from the garden and started to think about it more seriously.
Ironically, my first restaurant job was washing dishes.
I know you spent some time working at Uchi. How much did your time at Uchi influence your dishes now?
I didn’t know before starting at Uchi how much I was going to enjoy it or how much it would affect me. I just knew it would teach me new methods and stuff. I’ve worked in all fashions and styles, and that reflects itself in the menu here.
What has the reaction been to Swift’s Attic?
It’s been 95% overwhelmingly positive. We get a lot of industry folks in, a lot of chefs, and that’s the biggest compliment I can get.
It’s a very eclectic menu, so it makes the elevator pitch increasingly difficult and sometimes people don’t get it. You can’t just say, “It’s Italian food.” If you say it’s “modern American,” you have to explain what that means.
You probably have to mention Pop Rocks.
How have you seen the city grow, especially in terms of the food scene?
There are a handful of us who have been around for that long in town, and most of us are friends and have worked together at some point. We’ve been able to really foster a great community where chefs are working with and supporting one another. It’s not quite as standoffish and maybe competitive as it was when I first moved to town. Chefs who are coming to town notice that we’re a pretty tight-knit group and fall in line.
That’s awesome. So on kind of a different note, what are some of the flavors and ingredients you’re excited about using this spring?
What I get really excited for every springtime are ramps. They don’t grow here, but every year my mom goes and picks ramps on her property in Vermont, and she’ll send me 50 pounds or more. Then we’ll pickle them and use them throughout the spring and summer.
We’ve used them in salads, soups, stews. Sometimes just blanched and pickled and fried by themselves. I’ve never met a ramp dish I didn’t like.
I also get excited for spring peas and stuff like that. I’m working on a black-eyed pea cassoulet right now.
What do you like to do outside the kitchen?
It’s so high energy and chaotic all the time here that I’m a homebody when I’m not at work. I used to write a lot more in my spare time, and a while back I started writing a book about cannibals.
A novel, I’m guessing?
Yeah, it was going to be half cookbook, half novel. Maybe some pictures in there as well, multimedia stuff. I wanted to take the idea of a discerning foodie type and apply it toward cannibalism.
Would the recipes actually be usable?
They would be real recipes. Obviously I’m not going to test any recipes with people in it. I’d take other recipes and let people know you could sub rabbit for the human, or beef or whathaveyou.
It’s been stagnant a little bit, because I’ve been really busy here. The last year has gone by really fast.
We have some stuff in the works, but nothing I can talk about too much. We have a concept that we’re finding a location for, and we have a location we’re trying to nail down with the concept still in development, and then we’d like to be able to potentially expand here at Swift’s Attic too. That’s what we hope to be doing in the next year or two, those two or three things. Then after that I couldn’t say.