A Short Order
By Roslyn Hames
Matt Burden might be allergic to eggs and seafood, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to become a chef.
Matt Burden holds his hands up to the light. ‘Not too bad today,’ he says, cool and collected, referring to the reaction he sometimes sustains from leaving it too long after handing egg to wash his hands. If he were to ingest eggs, the allergic reaction could kill him. Same deal with seafood. It is surprising that Matt even leaves the house at all with his litany of allergies that bring on his chronic asthma, but you can’t keep a good kid down, and especially a not a good chef-in-training.
Matt didn’t ignore the practicalities of entering into the culinary profession with allergies to items such as eggs and fish. It just simply didn’t factor in matters of lifelong happiness. ‘For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a chef,’ he says quietly. ‘I spent a lot of time inside growing up, between hospital and school. Consequently, I was often in the kitchen watching and helping my mum and grandma cook. Mum had this amazing passion for food and my grandma had the expert precision with baking. My aunt, who I also spent a lot of time with, was both the technician and the passion, so with the combination of that, and the kitchen smells, I can say that my family built me to be a chef.’
Matt is nearly 26-years-old but holds the calmness and insight of someone who has lived much longer within his taut frame. When he was growing up in Bairnsdale, the protection he had from his family and carers gave him permission to happily watch life from the sidelines. ‘I didn’t go on camp or play sports, except for golf. I was protected by this collective paranoia.’ But participation would surely lead to a greater fulfilment. The first act of defiance came when Matt decided that he wanted to go on the school camp. ‘I just turned up at the bus and said I was going. And I went,’ he says, smiling proudly. ‘I was 15-years-old and it represented a significant and powerful psychological change in how I was going to live my life.’
Through this sudden exercising of free will, Matt realised that he could become the person he always wanted to be. ‘Every country boy wants to leave his home,’ he twinkles. Matt moved to Geelong, where one of his four brothers was studying at Deakin, and he commenced work in the hospitality industry. Eventually he landed in Barwon Heads.
Caramel pannacotta cakes, eggless chocolate mousse, sweets dripping with originality and balance between lightness and wickedness, Matt now invents. At Barwon Orange, Matt has the freedom to tweak recipes and develop new favourites. ‘I take recipes in my head and substitute this for that.’ His other strategy to get around eggs and fish is to handle quickly and wash his hands frequently. Mostly he is too involved in his passion to think on it. His memory for cooking is generally implicit and in action is intuitive. ‘The guys have a hard time getting me to writing anything down, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.’
While the drama, or light comedy, takes place on the streets of Barwon Heads, Matt is one of many who work tirelessly behind the scenes spinning the wheels, moving scenery around and turning off the lights at the end of the night. On his days off, he usually cruises town in search of the perfect latté (‘café dodge hopping’), visiting his friends at their home or work, being most of the town’s hospitality establishments. ‘Everyone is happy if everyone is doing well,’ he says referring to the healthy competition of the local industry. Allergies, schmellergies. ‘If my biggest worry is the war, my own personal worries are not so bad. In fact, I’m just as happy as hell,’ Matt says after spending his day off fixing his hi-fi. ‘I am the hi-fi whisperer.’ He chuckles