Get To Know Better Luck Tomorrow’s Chef, Matt Boesen
When it comes to the arguably elusive trifecta of delicious food, impeccable cocktails and fun environment, it’s hard to beat Better Luck Tomorrow, one of the Heights’ newest dining and drinking destinations. Its powerhouse team includes 2016 James Beard Best Chef Southwest Justin Yu (of recently-closed Oxheart and forthcoming Theodore Rex) and Anvil Bar & Refuge alumni Bobby Heugel, Alex Negranza, Terry Williams and behind-the-scenes man Steve Flippo. While Yu guides the food program, it is Houston native and chef Matt Boesen actually executing it, bringing his own mix of playfulness and competence as he draws from an eclectic culinary background that includes serving as chef de partie at Oxheart. Here is more about his journey and how he fell in love with cooking on the line.
How did you get into cooking and where did you work before?
I went to culinary school right after high school. I’ve always loved cooking. Near the end of culinary school, I got a job at Ristorante Cavour in Hotel Granduca and I fell in love working on the line. From there, I worked at Rainbow Lodge before taking a stage in San Francisco at Prospect. I loved it and put in my notice [at Rainbow Lodge]. I moved a month later and followed it with a time at Aziza. [Then I] went to go Benu for a year. I ran food [to diners’ tables] until there was an opening in the kitchen. Then, I moved back to Houston to be closer to family. I worked at Oxheart and most recently Hunky Dory before coming to Better Luck Tomorrow.
Where did you get your culinary education?
Culinary Institute LeNôtre in Houston
How do your past experiences show up on the plate at Better Luck Tomorrow?
I think San Francisco had a big influence on my cooking. While I was there I learned a lot about Asian ingredients and that kind of cooking, from Chinese to Korean and Japanese. I also learned about refreshing and clean flavors, and the importance of good vegetables.
What drives the food concept at Better Luck Tomorrow?
It’s very much a joint effort between Justin and I. We always said when we started talking about it that it [should be] food that we wanted to eat on our days off or at home and nights after work. I think it’s cool that we have a 10-item menu but such a wide range of food. We also wanted to serve things you couldn’t necessarily find in Houston—combinations you would rarely find together like the Not A Pizza [a scallion pancake with burrata, spring onions and anchovy-garlic bagna cauda]. Our philosophy is that every time we go out to eat, we want to share. One person can order three items and make a meal out of it, but also a group of five can order a full meal–The Cycle–which is one of everything. Everyone who’s had it seems to have a lot of fun and I have a lot of fun doing preparing one when someone orders it.
Is there anything that you already see as a signature dish or that get the most positive feedback from guests?
Justin has told me since day one that he doesn’t want the Party Melt to go anywhere. He loves that Party Melt. I think that and the Not A Pizza are definitely two that people always come back for.
What do you suggest first-time visitors order?
I think the best recommendation is to let go and step out of your comfort zone. All of the cocktails here are amazing and I personally have never been a big cocktail person but I’ve really started to enjoy them.
What are your personal favorite dishes to eat or to make at Better Luck Tomorrow?
To eat and to make I like the Not A Pizza a lot, which is a green onion pancake topped with burrata, shaved carrot coins and bagna cauda (an anchovy and garlic dip in this case used as a sauce). It’s an indulgence in many ways. Another one is the crispy chicken. That one’s very unique in texture and flavor. It’s based on a Taiwanese fried chicken and it’s really a street food. It comes in a paper bag; it’s just great snack food. You take a chicken and you pound it out really thin and bread it in a spiced sweet potato flour, which makes it extremely crispy and you end up with little bits that get puffy.
What’s the best part of being a chef—and being at chef at Better Luck Tomorrow in particular?
Creativity. It’s fun to create things with your hands, and everyday it’s something new. There are always new challenges. I really like how laid back [it is] and how much freedom I have. Justin’s been very accommodating in allowing me to make mistakes and learn from them. I think it’s also getting to work with both Bobby and Justin together because they both have a lot to offer. My favorite part is the crew. Everyone is determined and very professional. I think it’s great because everybody here knows the right and the wrong [way to do things] and it keeps everybody motivated to do better. It’s a really healthy environment.
What’s the worst part of being a chef?
Not having enough time for all the ideas I want to explore. There are always challenges but nothing is too hard.
If there is such thing as an “average” day as a chef for you what would that entail?
Come in, get through the prep list, make sure all the orders came in and make sure the crew’s okay, always saving time for extra unknowns like new projects and tweaking.
What’s your favorite way to unwind after a shift?
I’m really big on being outside if the weather’s nice, especially cycling.