Denver sighed collectively when Matt Selby announced his departure from Vesta Dipping Grill. The nearly simultaneous announcement of his new project, Corner House, got Denver wanting more details.
Selby, who is 38 years old, spent a decade and a half alongside Vesta Dipping Grill owner Josh Wolkon taking the restaurant to the top of many best of lists and building up two other restaurants, the popular American diner, Steuben?s and the new and buzzing, Ace. Selby had already served as executive chef while working with Mel Master when he joined Wolkon?s team, but it is fair to say that his career so far revolves around Vesta. Over his years there, Selby co-authored the Vesta cookbook, cooked at the James Beard House multiple times, appeared on Food Network shows, and made a name for himself as an active community leader through Taste of the Nation.
With a bulk of the culinary decisions resting on his shoulders for three successful restaurants, Selby found himself away from the kitchen more and more. Events, emerging new concepts and the day-to-day management of his staff also kept the chef from interacting with the guests, something he sorely missed. Selby rethought his career and made what was both the hardest and perhaps his most exciting restaurant decision to date.
?Matty, as the restaurant industry calls chef Selby, chose to step away from the restaurant group that he spent so many years with to reinventing himself by going back to the core of why he fell in love with the industry: the chance to cook simple and satisfying food and make a personal connection with the guests. Eater sat with Selby to talk about this major career change, what led to it, and what he is looking forward to once Corner House is open.
It has been over a month since you announced this major change- departing from Vesta and your new role at the Corner House, how does it feel? Every day gets more exciting as we get closer to opening Corner House. I gotta pinch myself! Still, there is a measure of nostalgia. I do miss seeing the Vesta/Steuben?s/Ace family every single day. While we stay in touch- check-ins to see how everyone or I am doing, progress on Corner House, sharing a joke, or holiday greeting - it's just not the same as sharing those connections every day like we use to.
Everyone wants to know: why? Why the departure? And why at this time? Ultimately, I need to cook - every day - and the more I thought about what my goals were and what the Vesta/Steuben?s/Ace goals were, the more I realized that they were no longer the same. I felt like the more we grew, the further I got away from cooking. I'm certainly not saying that those or my goals were better, right, wrong, or whatever - just saying that it was time for that family to continue to grow and kick ass, and me to continue to grow and kick ass. Or, speaking for myself, try at least!
What is your fondest memory of your years with Vesta and Steuben?s and Ace? What have you missed? There is a lot to miss. One of the fondest memory is getting pied to hell with dill infused whipped cream my last night at Vesta. The thing about that ritual is that (1) those guys know I hate dill and (2) they don?t go through the trouble of preparing dill infused whipped cream pies, 12 of them, to slam into your face unless they truly love you. Truly though, it's that type of family love that I miss everyday. Like I said, I miss the faces and day-to-day relationships the most. At the same time, I?m truly blessed to be working with a great team now. James Iacino, Scott Kinsey, Gerard Collier, and I are having a blast working with each other and have quickly become family.?
Corner House: what attracted you to the project? Certainly the opportunity to work with James and Scott, two very unique, brilliant, creative and community-driven guys was appealing! But what attracted me to Corner House was the opportunity to return to cooking, and rethink, reinvent, and recharge my own style of cooking. That being said, I will always be the same guest-focused and hospitality-driven chef I have always been, but in a more intimate setting that gives me the opportunity to cook and provide hospitality in a more direct way.?
You created an image of your cooking at Vesta —how is your cooking going to be reflected in the Corner House menu? Hard question to answer because I believe in trying to balance the things I want to cook with the things that my guests want to eat. I am excited to see what Jefferson Park wants, while balancing a drive to reinvent my style of cooking. I think that my cooking at Corner House will be a return to simplicity with a solid and educated emphasis on technique. ?
Where are you at with construction, menus, hiring at Corner House? We are rounding third base —almost home! We are slated to open on the January 4, after a variety of construction delays. The Corner House team and our consulting friends at LSE are definitely ready to roll.
Name one dish that you are most excited about at Corner House and explain why. The dish I?m most excited about is the roasted butternut squash soup with lobster, winter spiced mushrooms, and creme fraiche. I?m excited about it because after many tastings with the team, that soup keeps coming back up in conversation. It is very simple, flavorful, and so much fun to prepare and present. Nothing is better than putting together ingredients that I love to work with. It's great to have that dish received so well that people can?t stop talking about it.
Chef Matt Selby of Corner House [Photo: Adam Larkey]