Matthew C. Walker
How I Got Started
Welcome to the Boarding Axe Kitchen, the non-profit that grew out of the idea of the Boarding Axe Project. My name is Matthew, and I can attest that I may be the farthest thing from a chef as you can get. My culinary education is limited. I am proud of my meat cutters certificate. Strangely that introduction to butchery was what fanned the flames of my passion for cooking. Professionally my kitchen pedigree is not something that will get any Michelin Stars. I prepped and served in several different kitchens in a facility environment. My baby steps from prep to actual cooking were only because the real cook could not physically handle the smell of liver and onions night. It still felt like a promotion, even though it didn’t smell like one, but I sure got practice rehydrating pounds of mashed potato pellets at a time!
There was no creative freedom or expression in the kitchen at the time. Customer tickets were more along the lines of nursing notes regarding dietary restrictions. Food didn’t become exciting to me for another decade. Ironically enough, it came as a result of my own dietary restrictions. After my pancrease decided to STB, and my wife’s default settings included numerous allergies; living a happy, healthier life came from the kitchen. My introduction to butchery came more like an off-handed idea. I wanted a trade I could fall back on for job security, and living in a rural setting had me surrounded by farms just full of animals that happened to be edible and made out of meat… At the same time!
Fate never forced me to be more than an occasional weekend knife handler for friends with the odd sheep or deer. But, that butchery class was a catalyst. I learned about safe food handling and storage. Enough that I was amazed that I had never had food poisoning. It ingrained deep respect for the animals that eventually end up in the supermarket cooler. Every burger and hotdog cost a life to make it to your plate. Because of that, I could no longer settle for subpar food. I do my best to produce the best dishes that I can. Each plate is an opportunity to present a work of art, and no matter how hard I try, I can never commit as much as the pig that provided the bacon.
The cooking portion of the meat cutter curriculum blew my mind. I wasn’t in culinary school. So why am I learning the moisture prohibits the Maillard reaction? Silly me and my lack of business acumen. It turns out butchers that can help customers with best practices for serving what they buy leads to loyal customers and more sales.
So not only did I get to tackle the pork primals and make sausages, but I also got to compare baking vs. pan-frying them. We deboned dozens of chickens in many different ways, but we also made stocks from the carcasses, pate from organ meats, and compared other cooking methods again. I also got to experience the magic of bone marrow and amazingly delicious that can be. It wasn’t the CIA or NECI; however, it was a start, and I left a better cook by miles than I was before.
Why Boarding Axe and what is the Project? (In the beginning!)
(This section was the original explanation from before the project became incorporated as the Boarding Axe Kitchen, Inc. Vermont Domestic Non-Profit Corporation)
Boarding Axe comes in protest to the gatekeeping environment I was stuck in at the time. It was my symbolic raising of the black flag. I wanted to do something that could help others. I had seen much better cooks than myself get accepted to culinary schools and then get to tearfully watch the days on the calendar tick by when financial aid proved unobtainable, and I had big dreams of somehow creating a scholarship fund so I could help remove barriers. That was the project. The Boarding Axe Kitchen came to life because it was something I was passionate about, and I wanted to figure out a way that I could help others while doing what I enjoyed.
One of my ideas that never panned out was that I wanted to become a better cook. To do that, I needed more experience cooking and practicing techniques. Which would create more food than my family could consume. I also wanted an outlet for making food that I couldn’t eat. For example, I like shrimp, but I have a mild allergy. I wish that I could at least occasionally cook shrimp for other people. I enjoy baking bread. My pancreas won’t allow the bread to be a part of my diet. Same for pasta.
My crazy idea was to develop a system for providing the best restaurant quality Michelin contender meals to the local shelf. I selfishly would be able to grow as a cook, and those in need would have access to food. I grew up on government commodities, and sure, it is technically food, but that gov’mint cheese and peanut butter out of the cardboard can isn’t steak au poivre. What I dreamed of was providing gluten and dairy-free vacuum-sealed meals ready to go. I wanted to give the best quality meals I could to those that needed food stability the most. Logistically it just never panned out, but it is an idea I want to revisit in the future if I can.
In the meantime, although I can’t feed the world, I can at least share my cooking digitally through recipes, videos, and pictures.
Where am I now?
I still haven’t won the lottery or had a mysterious late relative leave me a massive inheretence so at the moment I am still working towards goals. First, the project has evolved from a vague idea to a real life incorporated non-profit. One that I currently serve as the Executive Director of and have the honor of driving towards our mission.