21 Questions with Chef Matthew Duffy
Matthew Duffy didn’t grow up stirring oversized pots or baking cookies at Christmas. His journey to becoming a renowned chef and baker, who is now passing his knowledge onto students as an instructor and program coordinator for the Baking and Pastry Arts Management offering at Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts (SHTCA), actually started as a means to get by.
“I don’t have a nice story of cooking as a kid because I started cooking to pay for school when I was doing a Business degree,” Duffy explains. “I kept doing it after I graduated and my mom was a co-op teacher so she signed me up for an apprenticeship. Eventually, I went out west to teach snowboarding and when I came back, I was bartending and mentioned to someone that I wanted to go to cooking school. Because I lived in a small town, it got back to my dad, who helped me out.”
That helping hand led Duffy to the Stratford Chef School where, with his previous experience, he excelled. It was also where Duffy discovered his love of sourdough bread (the taste, health benefits, shelf life, fermentations, mixing of flours, and touch and feel make it his favourite, he says) and that mastering bread takes time. It’s advice he now instills in his students.
“The first time I made bread, the chef threw it in the garbage in front of me,” he remembers. “I remind my students that while we work with bread for seven weeks, which will soon change to 14, they’ll be working with it much more in the industry. The repetition is where you get good.”
Repetition, combined with sheer talent and training took Duffy around the world for 12 years, cooking at Michelin star restaurants in Italy, Japan, Spain, Denmark and New York City. When Duffy and his wife decided to start a family, the chef knew it was time to take what he calls a breather and turned to teach. In September 2019, he was hired full-time at Centennial.
“I love seeing students’ progression from sometimes not knowing how to shape the dough to shaping and baking amazing products by the end,” he says. “Centennial is also a place that wants to see programs adapt to what’s current and always enhance the student experience, so if I have an idea, want to take a course, or need a piece of equipment, we try to find a way to make that happen.”
Despite being at the College just one full academic year, Duffy has already revamped program content and got to partake in two international experiences with his students through the Faculty-Led International Program. The offering allows students to gain first-hand experience and knowledge relevant to their field in an international context. Duffy and his students travelled to the UK where they visited the School of Artisan Food and to Las Vegas for the International Artisan Bakery Expo.
“The experiences were amazing and seeing my student's network was great,” he says. “I’m looking forward to developing Baking and Pastry Arts Management to include even more experiential learning experiences and research projects. I want to see SHTCA become a top destination for culinary arts.”
Written by: Izabela Szydlo