5 a.m. Day in and day out for the past eight years, Matt Reynolds, the head chef and catering manager at , arrives at this food-friendly hour to start his work day. In charge of all things kitchen at the market, Reynolds, a career chef with no hankering for the spotlight and no regrets, has found a home for his diverse skills after a years in the food business in Marin.
Reynolds started his food life behind the scenes at the tender age of 12 in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I was making pizza, mixing 100 pounds of dough in those huge Hobart mixers, popping them into a 500-degree oven, all for a dollar an hour,” he said. One day, he dropped a case of Coke and was fired on the spot. With this insta-lesson in the quirks of restaurant management, Reynolds went on to bus tables at the legendary mid-70s Cleveland restaurant, Earth by April. Known for its progressive food – think all-vegetarian menu with fresh seafood and a raw salad bar – Reynolds loved the scene and the food. He was devastated when his mother told him they were moving – to California.
They landed in Mill Valley (mom had friends here), which was not known in 1975 for its culinary landmarks. A 15 year-old from Cleveland was hard pressed to find work in the industry. Reynolds, by then enrolled at , eventually worked his way through a number of in-town restaurants - Angelo’s, Sinapa Farms Bistro and Davood’s Persian - before landing at the Trident in Sausalito.
“That’s where the real action was,” said Reynolds. “All the big bands came, it was totally hedonistic.” The Trident was locally known for its terrific, cutting edge Mediterranean food. “That’s really where I learned to cook,” Reynolds said.
By the mid-80s, Reynolds had worked every position in a restaurant you could imagine, from busboy and manager to head chef, and was looking for a career move. He found it at the Pacific Café in Kentfield, with Dave Rogue was the head chef. Reynolds started part-time while enrolled at the City College of San Francisco's Culinary Arts and Hospitality program, and stayed at at the cafe for 10 years in various capacities.
“I realized very quickly that I already knew what I needed to know about the industry," Reynolds said, explaining his decision not to finish his degree. “The Pacific Café was my first experience with fine dining.”
It was also the beginning of his love affair with seafood. “We’d get these 75-pound local halibut – gorgeous! - and develop dish after dish around this beautiful fish.” A Dungeness crab cake dish he developed is still on the menu 15 years later.
Reynolds also began a weekday job as head chef for food service at the College of Marin’s Indian Valley Campus. “I was doing weekdays at the college and weekends at the café. It was crazy,” he said.
He got married during the craziness to Kristina, his wife of 15 years. When the food service contract was sold, Reynolds became responsible for food service at five different community college campuses.
“I quickly realized I had the skills to transition out of restaurants and into other parts of the food industry,” Reynolds said.
In the early 2000s, Reynolds made a move out of restaurants and into grocery stores. He started as chef at Scotty’s Market in Terra Linda in 2000 when his friend Steve Bianchini, then Scotty’s owner, called and asked Reynolds to build-out their prepared foods and catering programs. Opportunity knocked again when David Gilmour, the owner of Paradise Foods asked Reynolds to be the chef for then-launching grocery market in Corte Madera.
By this point, Reynolds had developed a knack for building quick-selling catering and prepared foods programs and a reputation for building sales. What grocer doesn’t love a high turnover rate and quick sales? With Paradise Foods on the road to success, Reynolds bought a house in Petaluma and shortly afterwards, moved to Mill Valley Market.
“It was a terrific opportunity to run my own kitchen,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds calls the food he prepares at Mill Valley Market “comfort food but maybe some Indian or Mexican or German comfort food, too.” He makes sure that the ingredients are as local and organic as possible, super-fresh and perfectly prepared. “It’s simple, good food,” he said, “and we’ve become known for our soups.”
Reynolds wraps up most work days promptly at 2 p.m. so he can pick up his two sons, 14-year-old Marcus and 8-year-old Ryan, at school each day. On his days off, he relishes time with his family doing almost any kind of outdoor recreation.
What does Reynolds eat when not at work? Chinese or Vietnamese cuisine is a favorite “or I cook and keep it as simple as possible,” he said. “I still have a love affair with seafood but you don’t see those giant halibut anymore.” Luckily, we can still get those crab cakes at the market.