Home Grown
Home Grown
Executive Chef Matthew Taylor on growing up in a kitchen, Phoenix as a food city, and what it means to cook Italian.
Executive Chef Matthew Taylor might be Canadian-born, but his varied experiences in many of the valley’s kitchens have defined, though not limited, the bulk of his career thus far. “The only jobs I have ever had were in a kitchen, starting as a dishwasher in a high-volume chain restaurant at the age of 15.” He was formally introduced to cooking through a vocational culinary program that he attended while in high school and then went on to study at the Art Institute of Phoenix. “The vocational program ignited my passion and showed me that cooking for a living could be a respected profession,” he says.

Taylor enjoys the experiences Phoenix has afforded him and affirms the changes in the city’s food offerings. “When I first moved here, there were only a handful of chef-driven restaurants. Typically, higher-end dining rooms were relegated to large-scale resorts.” He credits a movement toward chefs staying put instead of fleeing to the big coastal cities to make a name for themselves. He is perhaps too humble to include himself in that growing pool of talent. He also cites the relationship among chefs, local farmers, growers, and winemakers that’s “blossomed into something special that we can be proud to showcase on a national, even global level.” Seacat Gardens is a good example of that synergy. Learn more on page 10.

“In a perfect situation, you hire a local chef who is well respected in the community and can execute on a high level. Matthew Taylor is that perfect situation. He’s got the right positive attitude, talent, and works well with the team. Plus, he’s just a really good person.”

—Scott Conant

Taylor doesn’t take his work in the kitchen lightly. He happily reinvents himself for each challenge that comes his way. “I always had an interest in Italian cooking, and when I heard Chef Conant was coming to town, I knew it would be something special. I tend to retrain myself for each new position I take on through conversations with more experienced colleagues. And research—both through reading and eating!”

He describes the food at Mora Italian as grounded in Italian traditions and as approachable in this desert town as it is in an Italian osteria. “I think the food is respectful and sensitive to the ways of the Italian kitchen without being handcuffed by them.” He takes the burrata as an example that incorporates pomegranate seeds for texture and acidity. “Here, we highlight an ingredient that is more common in European cooking and yet grows right outside of my house here in Phoenix.” Dishes might be more refined, but Taylor is confident the food has a sentimental pull as well: “You can’t hide where you grew up, where you live, and what you’ve experienced.” Mora Italian offers the ultimate experience of more refined food that resonates with a local crowd, because the person making it has an acute understanding of where both worlds intersect.