Interview: chef Matthew Lightner (Atera)

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Chef New York City


What are the advantages or disadvantages of having a restaurant in New York versus Portland?

New York is an amazing town, in that it’s able to get product in and move things around. You can easily get just as many products from around. The only major difference would be the seasons. You have four hard seasons, where in Portland or the Pacific Northwest, you have one really long season, followed by a little bit of warmth.

What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in your kitchen?


How can you tell?

You don’t look for the same people. You just look for different attributes, different backgrounds, stuff like that.

Are there questions you ask to determine that?

Not necessarily. Maybe it’s their passion for why they got into cooking, they take a unique perspective.

Is there anything you don’t enjoy eating?

I’ll try everything once. I don’t like to go too crazy on weird, bizarre stuff, but it depends on the right context. Insects are good the right cuisine, like some traditional Mexican cuisine, it just depends.

Where was it that you grew up?

I grew up in Nebraska.

Was it from there to Portland?

I grew up in a very middle class family. We didn’t travel outside of Nebraska or Missouri, ever, and moving out and seeing the ocean for the first time when I was 17, I had to be on the West Coast.

Do you still have family in Nebraska?

Yeah, in Papillion, Nebraska, and then I have a lot of family in Missouri.

When you think of Nebraska, is there a certain dish that comes to mind?

Chicken fried steak, pork tenderloin sandwiches, stuff like that, good comfort food.

Could you ever do versions of that at Atera?

Probably not at Atera, because I don’t like to bastardize tradition. If I’m going to do creative, modern food, it has to come from that derivative. It has to come from something unique. If I was going to make a fried chicken or pork tenderloin sandwich, it would just be a good version of it. It wouldn’t be a modernized version.

What was the last meal that you cooked at home?

The last meal I cooked at home was basically an udon noodle. We like to make our own broths at home, add noodles and herbs.

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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