Chef Matt Rapposelli shares insights on food and culture in time for WOUB-TV’s ‘Great American Broadcast’ on June 24

Chef Matt Rapposelli shares insights on food and culture in time for WOUB-TV’s ‘Great American Broadcast’ on June 24

By: Emily Votaw

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On a physiological level, food just needs to be converted into energy.

However, on a social, cultural, emotional and maybe even spiritual level, food is always much more complex than just your job description.

On Friday, June 24 at 9 pm, ET WOUB-TV presents the first episode of “The Great American Recipe,” a cooking competition that celebrates our complicated relationship with food and the confluence of cultural influences that make American food. be distinctively American.

If anyone can speak to the fascinating and satisfying ways a culture and its food are so intertwined, it’s Matt Rapposelli, executive chef at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls. A few weeks before the debut of “The Great American Recipe,” WOUB asked Rapposelli a few questions about his relationship with food and culture, the unique aspects of unique Appalachian ingredients, and more.

great american

WOUB: Could you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about how you came to be a chef in Appalachia?

Matt Rapposelli: I am originally from Cleveland, but my mother was born and raised in Appalachia. My most vivid memories of visiting my grandmother always came down to the food and the beautiful area. My grandmother was fiercely independent both by circumstance and by her character. This meant that she provided most of the food they ate through her gardening, foraging and hunting. My first memory of food with her was a squirrel and noodle meal. All of which she harvested and prepared comfortably by herself.

My Italian father and his family had been in the food business for a long time. I was predestined to work with food from the beginning. After I finished culinary school, I lived all over the country, Washington state, Vermont, Florida, but always came back to this region. I realized that this was a truly special place and decided to reestablish my roots here.

WOUB: What kind of local ingredients do you use that might surprise people?

Matt Rapposelli: The local ingredients that we have access to are quite varied. What may sound like an unusual or surprising ingredient to one person may be quite common or mundane to another. I think the one local food that probably gets the biggest wow factor is a papaya. They are definitely the platypus of our local foods. They’re not found in too many areas of the country, they don’t travel well, and people don’t often see whole fresh fruits in person. Combine all of that with their unique texture and tropical flavor and people are quite amazed by them.

As for other local foods that we use, the list is quite complete. Most are based on seasonal availability and available quantities. It takes a very different amount of an item to offer at the restaurant level versus one-time or home use. We use local meats, produce, eggs, fruits, mushrooms and dairy products as often as possible.

WOUB: Why is it important for you to use local ingredients?

Matt Rapposelli: For me, the absolute number one reason why I want to use local ingredients is to support real, local people. There are plenty of other benefits to using local items, freshness, uniqueness and quality are just a few, but helping someone in your community make a living while improving our lives comes first and foremost. Commercially sourced food is much more convenient to run a restaurant, but any extra effort required to use local is always preferred.

WOUB: For you, what are some of the culinary tropes of Appalachian cuisine?

Matt Rapposelli: If you mean a cliché when you refer to the culinary tropes of Appalachian food, I’m not sure many people outside of our region are capable of formulating a great description of what Appalachian food is. I think the thing that would come up most often would probably be chicken and noodles. I think if you were to ask most people outside of the Appalachian regions to describe what they think constitutes Appalachian cuisine, you would most likely get the Pennsylvania Dutch items that are the backbone of the “style of Appalachia”. homebody” of this region.

When I give talks or go to conferences across the country, I am often asked what one of the most unique foods in our area is. The example I always use is noodles over mashed potatoes. Most people are surprised to hear that this is a staple of our area. It definitely has its roots in Eastern European cuisine, but I haven’t seen it prevail anywhere else outside of our region.

WOUB: What can we learn about a culture from its food?

Matt Rapposelli: We learn everything about a culture from its meals!! What I like most in life is traveling with the soul purpose of eating food from other cultures and interacting with those who prepare it. Food is truly a universal language and what different areas do with it is the accent. No matter where you go in the world, although you may not be able to communicate through language, you can always communicate through food!

WOUB: Do you have a personal philosophy when it comes to being a chef?

Matt Rapposelli: I’m not sure what my personal philosophy is as a chef. What matters most to me is that the food is carefully prepared and well prepared. I don’t care if it’s a hot dog or a Moroccan bastille, I just want it to be done with care. I’m not the kind of chef who takes offense at any question about how someone wants their food to be prepared. I’ll be more than happy to incinerate that $65 filet mignon and give you steak sauce and ketchup to go with it. While that wouldn’t be my preferred way of eating it, I’m not the one eating it. I’ll do my part to make sure it’s seasoned correctly, looks appealing, and arrives at your table hot and fresh.

It is always very rewarding to open people’s eyes and palettes to properly prepared food. Often someone will say they don’t like something, and after talking to them, you realize it was probably because it was poorly executed. If you can get them to try again, sometimes you can see the fireworks and they have a new appreciation. I love those moments.