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Chef Matty Matheson talks life, heart attack, eating whale blubber

Man behind Toronto restaurant Parts and Labour hosts Dead Set on Life

Talk to chef Matty Matheson about how he came to host a foodie travelogue show on Viceland, and the word you’re most likely to hear is “amazing”. Less than 15 minutes will net you 10 amazings at least.

That’s because, truthfully, his story is just that. Before he landed Dead Set on Life, now in its second season, he was a perennially bombed bon vivant. A sloshed thrill-seeker, a delirious druggie. The guy who started a riot at his own restaurant, and who once invited New Year’s Eve partiers to punch him in the face.

That is, until he almost died. Full stop. Munched his final tiramisu. All at the age of 29.

“When I had my heart attack almost five years ago, it was pretty scary and life-altering. I changed a lot of things in my life. It’s more about living life and trying to be a better person every day, rather than being the same old guy who would just cook and drink and do drugs,” he says.

Matheson is robust in proportion, personality and pure volume. His tattooed body boasts more ink than an army of octopuses, and his tweets bellow in all caps. He gleefully busts through each episode of his show with the subtlety of Chris Farley on a Saturday Night Live set.

Season 2 of On Dead Set on Life still explores the culinary and cultural traditions of different communities, but now it ventures outside of Canada. Among its stops are Nunavut and Vietnam, with Matheson’s sometimes-sidekick Rang Nguyen in tow.

“Nunavut was like being on the moon. It was so beautiful. We took snow machines onto Frobisher Bay and just drove three hours out onto the ice. You’ve never been so isolated. We ate raw seal liver. We ate amazing Arctic char, muskox, caribou, narwhal blubber, a bunch of fun stuff,” he says, teasing the Dec. 8 episode.

“In Vietnam, we got to experience Rang’s world, where he came from and what he went through to get to Canada — it was an amazing story.”

Nguyen is the yin to Matheson’s yang, the peanut butter to his jelly. The two met while working at Le Sélect Bistro in Toronto, a job Matheson nabbed after dropping out of cooking school.

They each left the restaurant for other opportunities, but met up again when Matheson was preparing to film Dead Set on Life. Vice Canada’s head of content, Patrick McGuire, asked if he’d like to bring anyone with him on his trip back home to Fort Erie, Ont., for the inaugural episode.

“I was like, ‘Well, I’m friends with this older, kind of crazy Vietnamese guy.’ I thought it could be a cool thing, but I never thought it’d turn into what it is. Rang is superstar and a big part of our show,” he says. “We’re telling his story in Vietnam, but there are episodes in the season where he’ll just show up.”

Matheson, who helms storied Toronto restaurant Parts and Labour, cites his family for instilling his love of restaurants. His grandpa opened the Blue Goose Diner in P.E.I. after leaving the RCMP, and Matheson spent many a summer there. (He has a blue goose tattoo on his chest as a tribute.)

Since his rise to prominence, Matheson has interviewed Stephen Harper, modelled for Holt Renfrew’s 2015 campaign and posed for the hipper-than-thou style blog the Coveteur.

“A lot of people make fun of me, like, ‘Are you even in the restaurants anymore?’ And I’m like, ‘Well no, I’m not physically cooking every day, but all the food at Parts and Labour is my food, it’s my recipes and I’m in there cooking when I can,” he says.

“I’m branching out, and it’s a learning curve. How do I balance my time with a family, restaurants, television? When I shoot a season, I’m gone for eight-and-a-half, nine weeks. That’s a long time to be away from everything. Just trying to find that balance is the hardest thing now.”

Dead Set on Life airs Thursdays on Viceland

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