Boban Mathew gives credit to Herman Van Beber and Keith Froggett for his career successes
Boban Mathew did not always want to cook or teach.
His roots go back to India where he grew up in the state of Kerala. Leaving everything behind, Mathew’s family moved to Canada where he was determined to make a life for himself.
Despite having previous degrees, he returned to school at the grade 12 level. It was not until he started working as a dishwasher at the now closed Ascot Inn Hotel, where Chef Herman Van Beber noticed Mathew’s potential and led him onto the path of cooking.
“I guess I was a really good dishwasher,” Mathew said while chuckling.
Herman arranged for Mathew to pursue a culinary program at Humber College and gifted him a knife kit, an apron and a chef’s jacket to use in classes.
Mathew later returned to Ascot Inn after graduating where he took on the post of a cook. Given that Mathew’s english was not the best at the time, getting familiar with ingredients and cooking materials posed a challenge.
After an encounter where Mathew did not know what Iceberg lettuce was, Beber stepped in. He took the time to place each vegetable on a table and identified them for Mathew who drew visuals labelled with often incorrectly spelled names into a diary.
“If it was not for him, I wouldn’t be here,” Mathew said in reference to Beber’s patience with him. When the manager of Ascot Inn Hotel moved to manage the Bradgate Arms, Mathew followed. He met Dominic Chow, who also worked as a saucier at Scaramouche, a restaurant five minutes away. Chow connected him with Scaramouche.
“Bob, cook simple but good food,” Keith Froggett, executive chef and co-owner of Scaramouche restaurant often told Mathew. This advice has stuck with him ever since.
Mathew began at Scaramouche as a line cook. He was then asked to be butcher. After just six months of being butcher, Froggett approached Mathew with the opportunity to be sous chef.
Froggett advised Mathew to seriously consider this if he felt he had the confidence to take on the role. This shocked everyone, even Mathew himself, who accepted the offer.
Scaramouche sent Mathew off to work as a cook at Crillon le Brave in the south of France.
“I would hop on the train from Avignon, I would sleep on the train, and I would go where the train took me,” he said. Waking up in an unknown city, he would ask to work for free at the first restaurant he saw. Not everyone said yes, but he persisted.”
There were “a lot of bad times”, said Mathew when he became sous chef.
“The first week was just so tough, (the) second week was tougher because they all started ganging up on me,” he explained.
Regardless, Mathew respected his team as they were still his colleagues and instead, focused his energy on the menu and customers. He would be there with his team in the dish room when the shift got busy and helped those who were behind.
Slowly, he started to gain respect from everyone.
“I could ask them anything, from anybody and they would do it for me. Because I did it for them,” he said.
As chef de cuisine, he gathered the externship students and conducted short classes in the mornings to show them what would be needed to be prepped for the day.
However, there came a point for Mathew where he wanted to spend more time with his family. It became clear to him over a conversation with his wife that he should teach, something he never gave much thought to.
Listen to Chef Mathew’s podcast interview to know more about his turning point from Chef to professor.
After two years, he became certified in adults teacher training by going to classes on the weekends.
Mathew was later approached by James Smith, now the chair of school of tourism, hospitality and culinary arts at Fanshawe College, who previously taught at George Brown College (GBC).
Smith had been trained by Mathew during their time at Scaramouche and wanted Mathew to come in and teach as guest chef for his nutrition class back when he taught at GBC, and so Mathew did.
The college was pleased with Mathew and invited him back to teach as an instructor. This was his opportunity to enter the world of teaching. Conflicted, Mathew confided in Froggett, who told him to take this chance.
He started to teach for two days per week. The next semester, he taught for three. However, working as chef de cuisine at Scaramouche, he felt it was unfair to the restaurant. He had to make a choice.
Mathew approached Froggett once again, and explained his situation to him. He did the same with John Hoggins, director of GBC’s chef school. Both gave him assurance, and thus begun his teaching career at GBC.
Mathew eventually left Scaramouche. He dedicated 19 years, an unusually long time to work at that one restaurant. The reason being, he felt it was “a good fit” and there was a sense of freedom.
Mathew’s journey to cook and teach was not an easy one. He gave credit to Beber for his patience as a teacher, and to Froggett for his approach to “cook simple.”