2014-04-17 / Front Page

Co-owner of Fish voted region’s best new chef

By Ken Shane

Matthew MacCartney of Jamestown Fish was voted the region’s best new chef. 
Hilary B Photography Matthew MacCartney of Jamestown Fish was voted the region’s best new chef. Hilary B Photography The Jamestown restaurant scene scored a coup last week when Matthew MacCartney, executive chef at Jamestown Fish, was named People’s Best New Chef for the New England region by Food & Wine Magazine.

MacCartney was among 10 nominees for the regional award, and was also in the running for the national award, which went to a chef in Kansas.

MacCartney said he was in a car heading south from Vermont, awaiting word on the competition, when the news of his victory popped up on his Twitter feed.

“It was fantastic news,” MacCartney said.

Food & Wine has been presenting the Best New Chef award since 1988. The winners are selected by the magazine’s editorial staff. In 2011, the People’s Best New Chef award was added, with the winners being voted on by the public.

According to MacCartney, who was a winner in the latter category, there is often confusion about the two competitions. A “new” chef is defined by the magazine as someone who has been running their own kitchen for less than five years, making it possible for chefs to win more than once.

In order to even be considered for the people’s award, a chef has to be nominated by Food & Wine in the first place. MacCartney credits his placement in the competition to his participation in the Newport mansions tasting for two years in a row, an event that is sponsored by Food & Wine.

“That’s how your hat gets thrown in the ring,” MacCartney said. “Once you get nominated, it’s up to you to make your campaign, go out and rally your troops.”

The one-week voting period, which took place online, began on March 31. The chefs were divided into 10 regions, with 10 nominees in each region. Information about each chef was available on the Food & Wine website for voter consideration. All of the cooks in the People’s Best New Chef competition were also eligible for the editors award, although no chef has ever won both.

MacCartney, 40, says he was probably one of the older chefs in the competition. The kitchen at Fish is the first one that he’s managed.

“If you’re a little older, you’ve got more friends and more reach,” MacCartney said. “A lot of people were voting, and I think that’s how we did it.”

MacCartney’s cooking career began when he got a job at a pizzeria across the street from his childhood home in Queens, N.Y. After looking at several culinary schools, MacCartney decided on New York City Technical College, where he would not only get culinary training, but a bachelor’s degree as well.

As part of his training, MacCartney had the opportunity to intern at highly regarded restaurants in France, and to study for a semester at the Birmingham College of Food in England. While he was there, he began his wine education.

After returning to New York, MacCartney was working at a little bistro when he learned that worldrenowned chef Daniel Boulud was leaving Le Cirque to start his own restaurant. He knew instantly that he wanted to be part of it. He got the prestigious job at Restaurant Daniel when he was 19 years old and still in school.

“After that, you really never needed a resume,” MacCartney said. “All of those guys from the original group are rock stars all over the country.”

MacCartney still had the travel bug, and after a few years at Daniel, he got a job at Paolo Taverini, a restaurant in a small town in the Apennine Mountains of Italy. That led to a job at Cibreo in Florence, one of Italy’s most famous restaurants. After a year, MacCartney decided to come home.

After returning to New York, MacCartney took a job at a restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel before going to work at the Gramercy Tavern, where celebrity chef Tom Colicchio ran the kitchen. When Colicchio decided to open his own place, Craft, he offered MacCartney the job of running the beverage program.

“I took very little money, I think it was $45,000, and put together an opening wine list of 100 wines and slowly grew it,” MacCartney said.

In 2003, MacCartney was named best wine director by Time Out New York magazine.

When Colicchio expanded his restaurant empire, MacCartney decided that he wasn’t interested in being part of the machine. He decided to get out of New York and was offered a job by Joe Bruno, who owned Pasta Nostra in Norwalk, Conn. That’s where he met John and Cathy Recca, who lived in the area before moving to Jamestown. They were customers of the restaurant.

MacCartney struck up a friendship with the Reccas and was invited to visit their second home in Jamestown. Eventually the building on Narragansett Avenue that now houses Jamestown Fish became available, and together with partners, the group purchased the building. Jamestown Fish opened on Dec. 21, 2011.

MacCartney said that plans for his restaurant this year include additional reserved seating on the upstairs deck for fine dining. The casual menu will remain available on the remainder of the deck, as well as on the outside patio and in the Bridge Bar. MacCartney hopes to have the outdoor areas of the restaurant open by Memorial Day weekend.

The Reccas expressed their satisfaction with MacCartney’s award.

“Cathy and I are extremely proud of Matthew and everyone at Fish for being able to accomplish this fantastic win in such a prestigious national publication,” John said.

According to Recca, Food & Wine is one of the most prominent magazines on the national level. It’s an important achievement for MacCartney, he says.

Recca said the victory was not only for MacCartney, but also for the other restaurants in town, and the town itself.

“The state as a whole will benefit from the next few months of national press and attention,” Recca added. “Most importantly, Cathy, chef Matthew and I, and all of the people at Fish, would like to thank all of those who voted. Because without all of your support, we could not have won this contest.”

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