"I've Got a Pretty Elevated Beer Knowledge"
Meet Matt, our waiter at "Cannibal" in Culver City. He looks as if he was born to work at this hipster butchery/bar: He is a tall, bearded guy with strong arms and the look of a man who knows how to cook a steak – or hunt some moose (which, by the way, is exactly what he did before he came to the southland). He sat down with us before his afternoon shift, and we talked food, booze, and love.
Have you been working in the restaurant business before?
Yeah, I've been in the industry for a minute. I've done basically every position in a restaurant, from general manager to line cook. My first job was in Chico, California. I was actually hired to be the manager, because I was really good friends with the owner, but everyone who works in the kitchen would not have approved of an outsider coming in as a GM. So I had to fake it for six months as a line cook in the back. I worked my way up to kitchen manager, which was all planned. And then I worked from kitchen manager to assistant manager and finally to GM. I stayed for six years.
Are you from California?
No, I'm originally from Montana. I went from Montana to Chico, to Sacramento, to here.
What brought you to LA?
Actually, a job. I left a job in Sacramento to become a brewer down here. I brewed beer for about twelve years. Me and four other guys built the Dude Brewing Company in Torrance. I haven't brewed commercially since then. But I have aspirations.
Of getting your own place?
Yeah, I want to do a gastro pub, brew beer on site. Also I like the butcher shop idea. I would love to have 60 day dry aged fun stuff in the house.
You obviously love meat – you don’t have a screenplay in a drawer somewhere, or study acting on the side?
(shakes his head, laughs) We have two aspiring actors here. It was funny, the first day, this guy asked me what I did. I do stone masonry, I said, and I brew beer. And what do you do? And he was like: I'm trying to be an actor. And then he added: You know what? I am an actor. I thought that was funny.
So you are into stone masonry?
My friends make fun of me. You like a lot of old stuff, they say, like brewing and masonry. Two of the oldest sciences there are. Just rad.
What do you build?
I do a lot of residential. It was my full time job when I was still living in Montana. I learned from some of the best masons I've ever seen. They were building 18.000 square foot stone houses up in the Miller mountains. When I moved down here, I made some extra money by helping my friends out, like, do a patio. I just built an outdoor kitchen for a friend's family in Palos Verdes. I did a 3 inch concrete countertop with sea glass and shells and I polished it like glass. We put in a 40 inch grill, a wine fridge and a couple of double doors and some drawers. And I built the whole thing in stone. It turned out really well. It was massive, too.
Do you design those projects as well?
From the ground up! That's why people like me, too. If someone wants to go do a project, they have to call a designer and all these people and have them walk the yard. I just show up and I do it all.
So you are waiting tables full time and build something like an outdoor kitchen on the side?
Yeah, but it became a nightmare, when this place opened. We were training five days a week. We had to be here at 8 am, and I'd get off at 4 and go up the family’s house where I built the barbecue, and get a couple of hours in. That was definitely stressful. And I live 45 minutes away, so it was a lot of driving.
Where do you live?
Redondo Beach. This morning it took me almost an hour to get to Culver City.
Are you an L.A. outdoorsy kind of guy? Surf, mountain bike, rollerblade?
Where I’m from, it's hunting, fishing, hiking, camping. That is a bit hard to do here. But I've never gone deep sea fishing until recently. That was actually awesome. The boat that I was on was 14 feet. We went out in the middle of the night. We did lobster, we used hoop nets: you put a salmon head in a cage, and you drop the hoop net and put a milk jug with a glow stick in it, like 50 feet up. So you see the milk jug floating on top and the hoop net sits on the bottom, and you drop one net after the other. And then you come back to the first one that you dropped 20 minutes ago, and it's filled with 20 lobsters. We did that all night long, got a ridiculous amount of lobster.
What did you do with all the lobsters?
We ate those guys, they taste really sweet, no claws, but they were sooo good! When the sun came up, we motored out towards Catalina. I caught a Calico Bass, first fish I ever pulled out of the ocean. We were like eight hours on the water. By the way, the sides of the boat were really low. I got nervous, when it started rocking – I don't have sea legs, and then there was this whole pot of whales! First, we heard them, and then we saw one blow and they were on a beeline for us. They literally just came up right in front of us and dove underneath the boat. My mouth dropped. It was awesome.
What brought you to Cannibal?
The beer connection. When they put an application online for jobs, it said: If you don't have an expert knowledge in beer, you need not apply. I was intrigued by that. Now I've got a pretty elevated beer knowledge. I've done beer judging, BJCP certified, which is a beer judge certification program. I do home brew competitions, so I'll drink 25 beers, all the same style, and critique it. Talk about off flavors, talk about flaws.
They hit the lottery with you.
They loved it, exactly. Julian, the manager, and I are teaching the staff, what they need to know about beer.
Is it a man’s world?
Yeah, the brewing industry is a masculine field. First, we had all guys. Not a single female employee! Even today, we have only one or two girls. But I've met a lot of beer girls in this area, which I loooove.
Do you have any groupies?
Oh yeah. The locals love this place. The area behind Cannibal is all residential for miles. We get people three, four, five times a week for Happy Hour or lunch and brunch. A lot of repeat customers.
What is the typical customer?
A lot of entertainment industry. Sony Studios is in the neighborhood, they rent our private dining room and have meetings and little feasts in there. Then of course, we do have tech. And lot of movie stars are coming here, too.
Are you starstruck?
Working with celebrities was something that I was not used to. Like I was looking over and seeing Robert Downey Jr. got a table, or Gordon Ramsay. I'm a huge Gordon Ramsay fan! He is the nicest guy I ever met, he is hilarious. And Bill Murray came in, when we first opened. I had the opportunity to wait on most of them. And yes, I'm star struck, but I don't let it effect me. I know they just want to get treated like normal people.
What do they come for?
The beer. And Ramsay actually came for our burger and loved it.
We love your roast chicken.
I don't order chicken in restaurants, but this one is amazing. We take a whole Mary's organic chicken, braise it, roll it in seasoned flour and just drop it in the fryer whole and give it a fry. Then we butcher it in the back, put it on a board with an assortment of our sauces and send it out. We've also got a huge, industrial smoker back there. We do everything over almond wood. We are smoking pastrami, tomatillos for the bone marrow, we are doing a lot of fun stuff with that.
What do you think about waiters who want to be actors? Jon Hamm for instance worked as a waiter for ten years. He couldn’t make a living from acting.
Well, if you want to be an actor, you really can't get a better stage than either being a bartender or a server. Because you get these people when they are out to dinner and you are basically directing a show. You know what I mean? It's like you are doing a job interview for them. You are serving them food, but you do let your personality come out. People tell me all the time that I should be a stand-up comedian. But I don't know. I'd probably get up on the stage and just sweat. No word, just drip sweat.
You are a guy who can build a kitchen with his own hands, that's much more desirable in a town full of actors!
When people meet me, they go, you are not from here, are you. And I'm like, no, but how do you know that? I tell you why. I am different. When I moved to LA, I was captured by the beauty – the weather is gorgeous all the time, the people are gorgeous, you are right by the beach. There is a lot of money here, so you see generations, where they've got what they want for nothing. But I'm very biased when it comes to that sort of thing. Urban vs. rural. If I'm gonna have kids, I would never raise them in Los Angeles. I'd raise them back home, go back to Montana. The only trouble you can get into there is: you fall off a cliff, or get hit by a moose. Also, your reputation is everything where I'm from.
Where is that?
Sweetgrass, Montana. It's a border town between Montana and Canada, 65 people.
And you are all related?
Gnihihihi! Very close cousins right there. What I’m saying is: You just can't disappear into the fog, like here in LA. Where I lived, 70 square miles around everyone knew my family. We have generations of people up there. So you are held to a higher standard. If you mess up, it's not a secret, it's broadcast to the entire community. Oh man, I got into trouble so much as a kid, my grandpa would call me up and be like: If I see your name in the paper one more time...
Busted for what?
Just smoking pot, I always did.
Are you married?
We'll see... I'm 34! I'm trying to take my time.
We are going to send some girls over.
Hehehehe, please do.
Who knows, maybe a rich German beer brewer will give you a call.
I want to go to Oktoberfest so bad! I've never crossed the pond! I've been drawn to Europe since when I was nine years old. All my friends wanted to go to Mexico, and I was like: Barcelona! I hear Salvador Dali has had a huge hand there and I just want to walk around and be amazed. It's a different world, different architecture, different customs, I just want to soak it all in.
Go see Germany!
Exactly, exactly. I've got a quarter German and a quarter Irish in me. I've been planning this trip for like 15 years and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
So, what are you waiting for?
I have many plans. The problem is finding a rich person who will believe in them. I feel like all my steps, since I left Montana, didn't seem to make any sense at the time. But now it looks like I got all the experience I actually need to successfully open a place.