After Hours with Chapman’s Sous Chef Matt Larkin
The Bexley native shares his journey from aspiring teacher to sous-chef, by way of Vietnam.
As a junior sous-chef at Chapman’s Eat Market, Matt Larkin works most nights cooking on the line. But the job also carries with it creative responsibilities—specifically, the chance to work on menu development and pitch ideas for themed dinners. Two of his ideas recently came to fruition: a lunch/dinner event celebrating Juneteenth and a weeklong culinary journey through Vietnam.
Indeed, Larkin’s own path to the German Village restaurant travels from the American South to South Vietnam.
A Bexley native, Larkin headed to the University of Alabama for college, mostly for the “food and weather,” he says. After graduating with an eye toward teaching, he headed to Southeast Asia in 2014. “I moved to Vietnam initially just to teach English for a few months … and think about what I wanted to do for grad school,” he says.
He planned to stay in South Vietnam for six months, but then he took a part-time job in the kitchen at Pasteur Street Brewing Co., an American-owned brewpub that had just opened in Ho Chi Minh City. “I’ve always loved to cook. It’s something I definitely got from my dad. That was a family activity, just barbecuing in the backyard and helping out with making dinners,” he says.
Vietnam is famous for its vibrant beer culture centered around light lagers (bia hoi), but they are nothing like the American-style IPAs that Pasteur was brewing. “It got so popular so quickly,” Larkin says. “That’s kind of how I fell into cooking. As the company grew, my role in the kitchen became greater to the point that, by the time I left, I was the kitchen manager overseeing all four of our kitchens in two different cities, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi.”
In 2019, again in pursuit of food and weather, Larkin moved to Hong Kong for a job at a Vietnamese-style barbecue restaurant. Not long after, however, the Hong Kong protests erupted followed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Larkin found an intriguing job on Craigslist, began interviewing from Asia and returned home last summer for the gig at Chapman’s.
We asked the chef where you might find him when he’s off work and about his favorite food-related reads.
First food memory: “It’s either grilling chicken wings in the backyard with my dad or baking cookies with my mom to put out for Santa.”
Breakfast spot: “I eat at the German Village Coffee Shop at least once a week.”
Vietnamese restaurant: “Shouts out to Indochine [Café], Lan Viet and Mi Li Café.”
Best tacos: “[Chapman’s chef de cuisine] Wesley Grubbs makes the best tacos in Columbus. Los Agavez Taqueria is my go-to when Wes isn’t making family meal.”
Go-to bar: “Law Bird for cocktails and then Classics [Sports Bar] after they close.”
Ingredients always in his fridge: Kewpie mayo, fish sauce and steamed rice
Thing Columbus needs: “More street food. It’s one of the things I miss most about living in Vietnam.”
Recommended reading: “Bourdain’s ‘Medium Raw’ for entertainment and anything by [culinary historian] Dr. Jessica Harris for education. ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ [by Samin Nosrat] is my most referenced cookbook.”