Being a television personality is a lot different than playing a television character. For someone like cooking TV personality Matty Matheson, the latter can be terrifying.
“Acting scares the shit out of me,” said Matheson, actor and executive producer on FX’s acclaimed restaurant dramedy series “The Bear.” On the show, Matheson plays Neil Fak, better known simply as Fak, the childhood friend of Carmy (Jeremy Allen White) and Carmy’s cousin Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Fak is sensitive and sweet and sometimes spacey, but does his best in both seasons to keep first the Beef and then the Bear running as a handyman and server.
But even before joining “The Bear” in 2021, Matheson always had several irons in the culinary fire, running restaurants like Cà Phê Rang, Prime Seafood Palace, Rizzo’s House of Parm (named after his daughter, Rizzo) and Fonda Balam, all under the umbrella of his hospitality company Our House. He’s been the face of numerous food programs such as Vice’s “Munchies,” “Dead Set on Life” and “It’s Suppertime” along with YouTube series “Cookin’ Somethin’ W/ Matty Matheson” and “Stupid F*cking Cooking Show.”
Yet, still, the heat of the kitchen and under documentary camera lights is nothing compared to the heat on the set of “The Bear.”
“Acting is really difficult,” Matheson asserts in an interview with Variety. “It’s, like, a lot of hard work. I spent hours trying to remember, like, four lines. As comfortable as I am with everybody, and how helpful everybody is, you want to show up prepared and ready to rock with everybody else — and everyone else is so good. It’s very nerve-wracking for me, personally.”
Characters like Carmy, Richie and Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) received spotlight episodes this season, filling in their backstories that enhance their culinary journeys. While Fak is a staple character on the show, appearing in all 10 episodes of Season 2, Matheson has yet to get an episode to explore him. And much like Fak, he’d be a little nervous to be put in the spotlight.
“To have a whole episode around me — I don’t know. I’m just happy to be here,” he says.
Matheson worked with Courtney Storer (who goes by Coco), the sister of show creator Christopher Storer, and the culinary producer on the show, using his experience as a longtime chef to help bring accuracy and delectability to “The Bear’s” storyline.
“Coco and I, we worked together in detail,” says Matheson. “So I’m writing a menu, and she’s writing a menu.” When giving writers input on the kitchen-centric dialogue between Carmy and Syd, Matheson says he and Courtney would look at their own culinary conversations in order to channel White and Edebiri on-screen.
“We’d ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing together? How are we collaborating? What are they going to be doing? What are they going to be cooking on camera? How are they going to be doing that? How do we then give them the steps to bring that to life on set?’”
“Even when Carmy and Sydney are talking, we’re trying to figure that out mentally,” says Matheson. “The way that I think about food and the way that Coco thinks about food are very different. But it’s always the same structure. Thinking of a pasta dish, we’d ask, “Where does that pasta dish come from? Where do I come from? What are the flavors that I could take, and put into a pasta?”
“So, we’re trying to figure that out for Sydney and Carmy,” he says.
Matheson also helps Courtney develop dishes for the show, like the honey bun, savory cannoli, focaccia and welcome broth on the Bear menu, or the Italian dishes in the flashback family affair episode “Fishes.” Matheson says it starts in the writers’ room, with an overarching concept from Christopher Storer and Joanna Calo, the co-showrunner of “The Bear”.
“They come with the grand scheme of things. Like, ‘seven fishes’ is vague, but then we come in and are like, ‘OK, we’re gonna do branzino and stuffed clams.’ We get a vague umbrella, and then hyper tune it to make it realistic,” he says.
When asked about the simple yet brilliant Boursin cheese and sour cream potato chip omelet made by Sydney in Episode 9 (aptly titled “Omelette”), Matheson says it represents what’s at a chef’s core; the dishes they learned to make in the first days of culinary school that they can still make in their sleep.
“That was a French technique-driven thing, like, ‘What is one of those simple things that is like muscle memory or shows you doing something repeatedly — something that’s just ingrained in you?’” he says.
Yet, as much as “The Bear” revolves around the perils of the restaurant business and appreciating food, Matheson doesn’t feel that the show is simply about or for chefs.
“I think the only reason ‘The Bear’ is what it is, is because of Chris Storer and Chris Zucchero’s [owner of Mr. Beef in Chicago] relationship as kids,” he says. “And it’s always been that way. I don’t think it was like, ‘Let’s make a chef show.’ I think it was like, ‘Let’s make a show about a beef shop, and what goes around that.’”
“It shows that everyone comes from something,” he says. “People connect with it because everyone’s broken. And it’s just like, ‘How do we put ourselves back together every day?’”
“Yeah, it’s lifting the veil a little bit on how intense or dysfunctional restaurants are, but way more on unmanageability and people not being able to deal with their emotions or articulate their needs,” Matheson says.
Reflecting on the past two seasons, Matheson admits he never expected “The Bear” to get such immediate acclaim.
“I think after the first season we were like, ‘See you never!’ We felt we made this thing that was maybe a cult classic, something where in a couple of years people would be like, ‘Remember that one show ‘The Bear?’”
As for another run in the kitchen, the chef-turned-actor has no idea what’s next. Especially with the writers strike delaying things.
“I’m just looking forward to making it and hanging out with everybody again. It’s one of those things that’s obviously going in chronological order — a natural progression,” Matheson says. “Ain’t nothing written, so, who knows? When Chris or Joanna ask me for some input, then I’ll know something. But I think that’s a couple months away, for sure.”
More of Variety‘s coverage of “The Bear”: For an interview with Jeremy Allen White, click here. For an interview with Ebon Moss-Bachrach, click here. For an interview with Jon Bernthal, click here. For interview with Will Poulter, click here. For Variety’s review of “Forks,” click here. For Variety’s S2 review, click here. For an interview with culinary producer Courtney Storer, click here. For an interview with Episode 4 star Lionel Boyce and director Ramy Youssef, click here. For more on the S2 soundtrack, click here. For S2 cameo breakdown, click here. For an interview with Mr. Beef owner Chris Zucchero, click here.
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