Interview with Matthew Mancuso of the theartofeating.info
Matthew Mancuso is a multifaceted creator, chef, food writer, and food photographer. Throughout the last 14 years of his career, he has worked at some of the most prestigious restaurants in New York City, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Per Se, and Le Bernardin. Several years before the pandemic, Matthew began a full-time food photography career before working as a private chef. Today, he runs at-home/virtual cooking classes, a YouTube channel, Instagram, and more, all dedicated to culinary education.
About Matthew Mancuso
Matthew Mancuso was born and raised in Garrison, New York, and shares that his Italian heritage has greatly impacted him and his cooking.
He adds, “I’m Italian by nature a hundred percent, so we come from a very food-forward family. I’ve been cooking my entire life for as long as I can remember. There are pictures of me, my mom, and my grandma altogether in a kitchen.”
He began working in kitchens as a basic prep cook at 14 years old and enjoyed the militant, organized structure of how a restaurant operates. During his junior and senior years in high school, he was able to join a vocational program in culinary arts and began cooking at restaurants.
Before going to college, he spoke with his boss and mentor, who explained that he could learn how to cook in any kitchen. However, an education in pastry and baking could help him to become an extraordinary, well-rounded executive chef.
“One month before I went to culinary school, I actually switched my major from savory to pastry. I did two years of pastry at The Culinary Institute of America.”
Due to recurring knee injuries throughout his career, Matthew stepped away from the kitchen and began working as a food photographer and social media marketing expert for restaurants.
“I decided to leverage my social media with my food photography, and I was approaching restaurants, “Hey, I’ll come on as a monthly photographer, and I’ll also run your social pages.”
Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit and forced many restaurants to close or cut back, Matthew lost all of his food photography contracts. This challenge led him to begin posting on social media more frequently.
Matthew Mancuso began showing people how to make comfort meals and bake bread. While trying to get back on his feet, he was offered a job to cater to a small wedding of 40 people. His food was a huge hit, and everyone at the wedding asked him for his contact information and about the services he offered.
After that wedding, he was booked every weekend for catering events, whether this was a small dinner party, tasting dinner, or private event.
This career change led him to view his career differently.
“If I knew that I didn’t have to be working 60 hours in a kitchen, every single week, giving up all of my weekends, all of my holidays, not seeing family, friends, or having a decent relationship and I could have been making my own schedule, cooking the food I want to cook, cooking with the consumer… and I get to see your [the consumer’s] face light up and say “thank you so much for this meal.” It moves you. It changes everything.”
While his injuries and the pandemic were initially huge hurdles, Matthew shares, “I was one of those stories who came out better off than they went in to the pandemic. I came out with a six-figure catering business out of literally nothing… and it’s a lot less grueling on my knees.”
“Initially, it’s just food. You have a lot of people who are like, “Hey, you want to see me? Here’s my face. I’m eating this food. I’m making this food. I’m talking to you,” and stuff like that when just getting started, and I started getting good traction on my reels, my videos, and that sort of stuff. There were no words. It wasn’t me talking. It was just here’s the food.”
Matthew Mancuso explains that the content he feels really works for him is direct food videos where he shares a detailed caption of a recipe and thoughtful food content that makes viewers feel something.
“Besides photography, I”m a painter and stuff as well. The art kind of extends a lot further to that to me. It’s not so much a talent that you can do as it is a perspective in a state of mind of how you perceive things. Art is supposed to make you feel something. It’s supposed to move you.”
Matthew artistically presents his food content, showcasing his art, creativity, and who he is altogether.
In addition, he shares that tagging many large accounts was a successful strategy for him to grow online.
“I started spamming everybody. You can tag 20 people on a post. I’m tagging 20 huge accounts to see if anyone notices me. One of those accounts I started tagging was Tastemade.”
Tastemade reached out to him after he had repeatedly tagged them with his content and shared that when they reposted his content, it had better analytics than their own videos. As a result of this success, Matthew was asked to be a brand ambassador for Tastemade.
He also started posting more instructional videos and lives, which allowed his viewers to ask him questions about food and cooking live.
“Nowadays, if you’re looking at my content, all of the content now is moving forward with my voiceovers and stuff like that, especially with all my Tastemade partnerships. That’s the content which yields me the best engagement.”
Matthew has worked with various brands, sharing his favorite “influencer partnerships” are knife brands. He also loved working with a large chain on a food photography shoot.
“Their budget was insane… They were like, we’re shooting a commercial. It’s going to be four days long, and I’d walk in, and there’d be a buffet and everything all set up, and they’re like, all right, we have three different types of fries… and it was just really overwhelming to have all of these things and to be able to shoot and do that with such a big brand.”
When working with brands, Matthew shares that he’s a straight shooter and always explains to brands that he won’t push anything he doesn’t love, even if they send him the product for free.
“I’m not going to push out half-ass content because you’re giving me free stuff, so that’s something that is very near and dear to me. You see a lot of influencers, and stuff that are just pushing products left and right… you got to kind of pay attention to who you’re following and who you trust.”