FareStart's Matthew Lasof talks Motivation & Chicken Fried Steak

This Texas-born executive chef shares what it's like to run the FareStart kitchen
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The first dish chef Matthew Lasof ever mastered was spaghetti Bolognese. "[I] was preparing it for my family by age 10," he says. Since October of last year, Lasof has been the executive chef at FareStart. Originally from Texas, his four decades-long restaurant industry career includes 10 years in New Orleans working at restaurants such as Hotel Meridien and Christian's.

“My New Orleans experience made me more aware of seasonings and I use that experience to help make food pop,” Lasof says. “I was also influenced by the levels of hospitality and genuine great service that is prevalent in New Orleans--making people feel welcomed and making people happy.”

That hospitable attitude is apparent at FareStart, where the kitchen operates as more than just a restaurant. It's also a training program that teaches kitchen and cooking skills to students and equips them to get jobs in the industry. Chef Lasof's goal is to triple the amount of students graduating from FareStart.

Want to sample chef Lasof's dishes? You can eat lunch at the FareStart restaurant Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dine at the FareStart Café in Rainier Valley Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Need to feed a lot of hungry mouths? FareStart also offers catering.

Who or what was your inspiration to start cooking?
My love of eating and food. I was always fascinated by how chefs transformed raw ingredients into something wonderful and delicious.

What's the most challenging part of your job?
Balancing the training component with the operations component. I devote the majority of my time to the operations side, and there are student chefs who work with the students in the classroom. However, when all of us are working with the students, our focus is always on them and the experience they have while training.

And your favorite part?
Watching how the program helps students learn and grow, and our joy and pleasure is seeing those students succeed. Some of our students have never really experienced a positive environment, and never had the feeling of accomplishment and success. Our team strives to help foster achievement and celebrate victories and be cheerleaders for our students.

What's one exciting thing happening at the FareStart Café right now?
We’ll be opening a new café in the Pacific Tower Building [1200 12th Ave S] this fall.

What do you think is the most important thing you consider when designing menus for the restaurant, café and the catering business?
One of the most important facets of menu design and execution is to offer top quality, interesting food, while giving the customers what they want. We are also very careful to ensure our students get a well-rounded, balanced training experience to help them become an asset in their next job. Our primary focus is on offering a variety of techniques and methods in order to give knowledge to our students and ultimately help make them employable. When seeking out new social enterprises, we try to ask ourselves the question, "is there any training benefit?"

Name two of the coolest events that FareStart has catered.
We catered a picnic for Microsoft for 700 people and we did an event for a new apartment building on a rooftop terrace with music, food and instant ice-cream with nitrogen.

What’s your favorite meal to cook for guests?
Whatever is fresh and local.

How about just for yourself?
It's a blast from the past from Texas: chicken fried steak with cream gravy.

Tell us about your most memorable experience while working in a kitchen?
I was in an earthquake while cooking here in Seattle.

Being a chef is known to come with long hours and a lot of stress. What motivates you on the extra tough days?
The hours are long and the work is very physical, but helping students learn and succeed is an amazing motivator.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming chefs?
Work with the best ingredients available and keep your humility.

What do you think it takes to become a successful graduate of the FareStart program?
It requires tenacity, listening skills, a positive outlook, and a great work ethic.