Q&A with Chef Matthew Jennings
Posted: February 18th, 2020
“What do I love most about food? People”
This year will mark Chef Matthew Jennings’ first trip to the CampoVelo celebration. He is a phenomenal chef, an active cyclist, and a close friend of our own CampoVelo Host, Chris Cosentino. Matt is a busy man. And quite accomplished. He’s been nominated five times for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef of the Northeast. He is dedicated, passionate, and works long hours often with little down time. But when he does, he rides—an activity he started a few years ago to take back his health and get strong, lean, and sober. These days, it’s all about being and staying healthy for Matt. What’s more, he likes to share his story and inspire others who may be struggling with addiction or health issues as he once did. The other day we were lucky to catch and corral Matt on a break and ask him his thoughts about CampoVelo and what he’s up to these days.
Tell us about how you got to know Chris Cosentino.
You know, Chris and I met in 2008 in Providence, Rhode Island. That’s where I opened my first restaurant in 2002, and it’s where Chris is from. We hit it off right away. We were both chefs in this great town and seem to run in the same circles, so it was inevitable. Plus we had a lot in common beyond food.
You’ve been very open about your struggles with addiction and health over the last few years. Is that a difficult thing for you to talk about?
No man, I’m an open book. You know, I was going down a one-way street the wrong way and something had to give. I was obese—like very 400 pounds big—and I was drinking and partying like I was in my teens and 20s. It became clear that if I didn’t make some changes, bad things were going to happen. What’s strange and what I’m so grateful for is that somehow I was able to work and and be a chef and keep the restaurants going. That was lucky.
So how did you break free and turn your life around?
I just had a “come to Jesus” with myself. My wife, who is a pastry chef, and I had just moved to Boston to start a new restaurant, Townsman. And I was not healthy at all. I showed signs of pre-diabetes, had high cholesterol, and was suffering from acute anxiety disorder. It was a pivotal time for me—a time in which I was going to get healthy or go down fast. I chose the former path. I got my health back in 2016, four years ago.
So how did you do that?
Well, I quit drinking, started focusing on eating better, and started to exercise. It’s the same thing anyone has to go through to get healthy, there are no shortcuts. It was during this period that I started cycling. I ended up doing a 300-mile ride in 3 days for, “Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry.” It was brutal, but I did it. And it gave me confidence and enthusiasm to really get into cycling and health.
So what brings you to CampoVelo?
Well during this time Chris and I stayed in touch and remained close. And he just kinda mentioned it to me—that he’d like to see me there and have me contribute and participate in this great event that is focused on two things I love: cycling and food.
Tell us about what you are most looking forward to at CampoVelo.
Connecting with people. That’s what I love about what I do. To me the best thing about food is people. Sharing stories and experiences and really celebrating health, community, and wellness. Food brings people together and it’s vital to our social culture. My expectation is to go and have fun and ride and cook and talk to people. My whole thing is about creating conversation and dialogue about food and health and how important it is. I’m not preachy, mind you, but eating right and cycling changed my life at a time when it was spiraling downward. I think it’s important to honor those two things and share my experience with others who are interested, to reclaim their life, their health.