By Carly DeFilippo
In 2014, when Saveur ranked Brooklyn as their #1 food destination worldwide, guess which of the neighborhood restaurants became the “cover girl” for the borough’s inimitable flavors? That’s right—Emily. The brainchild of ICE Culinary Arts grad Matt Hyland and his wife Emily, this new Clinton Hill eatery has captured the creative minds and palates of the world’s most discerning pizza lovers. So we knew we had to talk to the man behind the pies and learn a little bit more about his path to becoming a professional pizzaiolo.
What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE? What motivated you to enroll at that time?
I had just finished my information science degree at Roger Williams University, and I was working as a part-time garde manger cook in a fine dining restaurant. I was commuting a long way everyday for this job and knew I wanted to be in the culinary world, but I hadn’t pulled the trigger on going to school. Through my research, I knew I wanted to be at ICE. One day, I was wearing my chef pants on the train, and the man who sat down across from me asked if I had gone to culinary school. I said no and he gave me his card. It turned out he was a recruiter for ICE. I really took that as a sign and enrolled just a few days later. I’m so glad I had that encounter!
Where was your externship? Did it help you make any particularly meaningful connections in the industry?
My externship was at Public. I worked the hot appetizer and garde manger station, and after my externship, they hired me for the pastry station. It was a solid foot in the door and a great restaurant to have on my resume. They also wrote me a great recommendation letter, which was helpful as I started looking for other jobs.
What have you been up to since graduating?
I have worked in various capacities in the culinary world over the past decade. I have done everything from pastry, to salad, to cooking on the line, to working on the administrative team for the opening of April Bloomfield’s The Breslin. (As a current business owner, the experience of working on the opening of someone else’s restaurant was a great learning experience.) I was also on the opening team of Sottocasa— the pizza place in my neighborhood—which was where I got my hands in the dough and realized it was the path I wanted to take.
Are there any professional milestones, accomplishments or awards of which you are particularly proud?
Taking the chance to open my own establishment. First, I opened a pizza spot called Brooklyn Central, in Park Slope, with other partners. Yet, once we opened, we learned we had very different visions. I left there just six weeks after the opening, which felt like a real defeat. However, it afforded me the chance to try again on my own—and with a ton of experience under my belt. I now own EMILY restaurant with my wife, so I have full creative control of the menu. This time around, the vision is easier to implement because we share it together.
Briefly describe a day in your current working life.
Normally, I get to work around 11AM and get a big project started, like duck ragu. Then, I check in with my daytime porter on the orders we anticipate receiving. I do computer/administrative work from around 12PM-4PM, and then I get ready for service, as employees start to filter in over the course of the afternoon. Finally, I run the staff meeting during family meal (20 minutes before service begins), and then I expedite and cook pizza during service.
What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
This is an easy one. The most surprising thing culinary students who aim to be chef-owners of a restaurant might learn is that, daily, I do more administrative tasks than cooking. I am the executive chef and oversee all aspects of the kitchen, but my main job during service is to expedite, and my focus during the day is to pay bills, fight with vendors and work on spreadsheets.
Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
I would like to see my restaurant sustain itself. I realize very much that this is a day-to-day journey and that all restaurants have life spans. I hope EMILY can continue to be a strong fixture in NYC’s pizza scene and allow my wife and I a little more balance in our lives as time goes on. We are also really hopeful that we can expand or open another concept in the future. But the first year of opening a restaurant is such a whirlwind that it’s hard to think of what comes thereafter!
How would you describe your “culinary voice” – in other words, your culinary perspective or style?
I really believe in simple, real ingredients. Almost all of our produce comes from farms we know across New England, and all of our meat comes from trusted, small farms and butchers. I think it is important to be true to the integrity of the ingredients and create dishes that highlight them. We mix all of our dough by hand and make our mozzarella and ricotta fresh, in house, everyday.
My culinary voice, I suppose, is that there has to be love, passion and integrity in the preparation of food. In terms of pizza, my perspective is that it should be fun! Everyone in this city is so particular about pizza—sometimes in a really intense way. To me, there are no wrongs or rights in terms of toppings or styles, as long as you have a fun dining experience.
Last but not least, what’s your current favorite pizza at Emily?
Our secret off-menu pizza, “The Matt,” is my favorite. I won’t reveal anything about the toppings—you’ll have to come and see for yourself!
Don’t wait for a stranger on a train; click here to find out more about ICE’s Culinary Arts career program.