Chef Spotlight: Matt Hinckley of Hinckley's Fancy Meats
Hinckley's Fancy Meats is one of the top reasons we love Orlando
Orlando has made some really great strides in food culture over the past 10 years. It's one of the reasons that Matt Hinckley decided to move here to start his own business, Hinckley's Fancy Meats. We wanted to pick his brain about how he views the city and get his thoughts on the food scene here.
Q: Matt, for our readers who may not know of you or your business, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I've been a chef for most of my adult life. My main focus right now is making meat that is sustainably raised by small independent Florida farmers more accessible to people who want to eat responsibly.
Q: Of all the places you've traveled to, what has been your favorite city or country & why?
If Sydney, Australia wasn't a 17 hour flight away from my loved ones, I would live there. It has a hustle that reminds me of New York City or Chicago. But also has this laid back beach vibe you might find in Miami or the Keys.
Q: Regarding modern food culture, what do you think of the farm to table trend?
I feel that we are at an odd time in a culinary sense. It's an anomaly that progress would be best seen as regressing to century old trends, but that's what is happening. We've become so out of touch with where our food comes from that chefs are considered progressives or outliers just for knowing the name of the guy who farms their chickens.
Q: Why is it important to know where your food comes from?
Eating is a very intimate act. Unless you grow all of your own food, you are taking something from someone else and putting that thing in your mouth and in the mouths of your family. To accept with blind faith that everyone who produces your food is acting in your best interest is vacuous. Beyond that, having a connection with your food makes it taste better. If you've ever grown anything and eaten it yourself you can testify to this. Food has a story to tell and it's important that we listen to that story.
Q: What restaurants in Orlando are doing a good job, and why?
There's quite a few that are doing cool stuff. I like Luma on Park. Chef Kathleen does a great job supporting small Florida farms at Rusty Spoon. Chef Kevin does that at K as well. Chefs are the voices that spark food trends. People pay attention to what the best chefs in the city are doing and they mimic that. So when chefs use small independent farms, you see the trickle down effect in other places. It's refreshing to see the big players like Chipotle and Panera follow suit as well. Educating consumers so that they can make responsible food choices is the best way to make change. These chefs are doing just that, encouraging their patrons to ask questions and engaging them. Our food system changes fastest with a savvy shopper. We don't have to vote in the right politicians to enact change if we vote with our forks three times a day.
Q: Have you seen any trends in food that haven't quite made it to Orlando yet, or are just starting to appear?
I think all of the trends are here. But they don't have the same prevalence as in many other parts of the country. Orlando will see an influx of restaurants that offer cleaner and healthier food choices. I think we'll see a few more spots that do grain bowls, but we'll also see a bunch of gluten-free and paleo spots. We'll see more ramen and Korean BBQ type spots, the ubiquitous donut shop, and maybe some high-end snack food to compliment some of the craft cocktail bars downtown (call me...).
Q: What is your favorite place to eat in Orlando, and why? Any favorite dishes?
I have lots of favorites. I have a noodle problem. And that puts me in Domu or the Mills/50 area quite often. The Korean Fried Chicken at Domu is impossibly crunchy and sticky sweet. I'm all about the pho bowls when I'm in Little Saigon.
Q: Is there an unsung food ingredient/spice that if people used, would make their dishes more tasty?
It depends on the dish. As a chef you're always looking for sour, sweet, salty and spicy to round out your dishes. So I'll touch on my favorites of each. One of my favorite sour flavors is yuzu (sorry locavores). It's a really floral Japanese citrus that makes awesome marinades or salad dressings. For sweet, I reach for local wildflower honey. You can't duplicate the nuances of it anywhere else. Bragg's Liquid Aminos give a healthy salt punch that is similar to that of soy sauce. Datil chilis are an endangered species that grow around St. Augustine; they pack heat like a habanero, but are much fruitier. I put them in everything.
Q: What would you like to see more of in Orlando from a food perspective? Is there anything missing from the local food scene?
I'd like to see Orlando develop more of a culinary identity of its own. When we think of "Florida food", we often think of the flavors of Key West, and lots of tropical fruit and seafood. But Orlando is different than most of Florida. If you turn on the lights at night and look at Florida from space, you'll see a bright coastline and then Orlando, all by itself in the middle of the state. We need to embrace what makes us unique in that regard. I'd like to see a restaurant that offered comfort food with a nod toward the swamp. We also have a healthy immigrant population, many of whom are employed by the hospitality industry, that is different than other parts of the state. I'd like to see more influence from the Puerto Rican and Vietnamese in some of Orlando's fine dining. When you go to San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, Charlestown, or Boston, you already know what you're going to eat. Orlando needs to create that culinary identity for itself.
Q: If you had limitless money and a week to spend, where would you go and what would you eat or buy?
I would go to South Africa and eat braai. I think there's a really cool food scene there that is so foreign to us. I'd want to dig in on all sorts of sausages, biltong, seafood, different fruits and veggies. I'd probably try to stay with friends, or friends of friends, so I could get a true appreciation of it all. I'd avoid anything touristy, except of course, a safari!
Q: What is your future goal for your business?
My short term goal is to make responsible meat more available to the Florida market. I'm feeling out now whether that makes the most sense as a brick-and-mortar retail facility or by shipping direct to consumer. I'd also entertain the idea of opening a more casual restaurant in the more distant future.
Q: What's something our readers can make at home using one of your delectable meats?
Hinckley's Fancy Bacon on an English muffin with local farm eggs.
Find Hinckley's Fancy Bacon as well as many other local, sustainably-sourced meat products from Hinckley's Fancy Meats at the Florida & Co shop inside the East End Market.
East End Market: 3201 Corrine Drive, Orlando FL 32803