Matt Basile of “Rebel Without A Kitchen” On Cooking, TV, And The Influence Of Elvis

Toronto-born Matt Basile (also known by his alter ego, “Fidel Gastro”) is a busy man. In just two years his food truck, Priscilla, has transformed from a pop up business into one of Toronto’s premier catering companies. He has a new restaurant called Lisa Marie in the heart of Queen West. He’s written his own cookbook. And, if this would seemingly be enough to keep a young entrepreneur and chef busy, think again; Matt is also the host of the Cooking Channel’s Rebel Without A Kitchen, which takes him all over North America as he explores the unique street food scenes in various cities.

When did you first become interested in the culinary arts and what is the first thing you ever learned how to make?

I learned about food at a very young age from my Italian grandparents ­– it was just a part of the family growing up and the first dish I ever learned to make was real tomato sauce from scratch.

Did you have a role model who inspired you in the kitchen or with life in general?

My Nonno – he taught me everything about life, from learning to ride a bike to being an adult to how to respect food.

You worked at an advertising firm before a complete career shift to the food industry. What prompted the transition?

The recession hit and it changed the landscape. I was debt free and wanted to be my own boss. The only other thing I knew how to do was cook.

How has becoming a television personality changed your career? How has it affected you on a personal level?

It changed my career because more people knew who we were. Every moment of my life was captured on camera – good and bad. But it did open up a lot of doors in terms of traveling the world, working with renowned chefs … it also threw everything into high gear and there wasn’t a moment to ever look back.

You’ve made some bold choices in the past, opting to forego a traditional restaurant setting in favour of a good old-fashioned food truck. What have been some of the advantages and drawbacks of this strategy?

I couldn’t afford a restaurant when I started, so gradually growing the company was the goal until I could afford one, but now that we have everything, the restaurant makes the food truck more manageable and more profitable.

What made you decide to open Lisa Marie on Queen Street in Toronto?

The company was growing so quickly and we were just looking for a commercial kitchen for the food truck, and the one we found just happened to have a restaurant attached to it.

How do you balance operating the brick and mortar restaurant versus Priscilla and the demands of a street food kitchen?

Having a good team is key. Making sure everyone communicates ensures that operations will run smoothly.

How do you juggle the demands of being both a chef and an entrepreneur? Do you ever feel that you need to make sacrifices in one role for the sake of the other?

The biggest sacrifice is my personal life to make all of that work. I tried to adopt a philosophy of worrying about tomorrow and letting my team handle today – meaning, I am an entrepreneur first and a chef second. I’m thinking about the whole company when I make a decision, not just one plate of food.

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

When Michael Bonacini wrote the forward for my cookbook.

Fidel Gastro’s has an impressive following on Twitter and Instagram. How do you feel that your career in advertising affects your approach to social media?

All forms of media are an extension of the company. It organically was part of our business from day one. It was never an afterthought.

What advice would you give young entrepreneurs interested in the food business?

Be prepared to work EVERY SINGLE DAY until you either make it or go out of business.

Why did you decide to name your new restaurant Lisa Marie?

We signed the lease before we had a concept …We had a few that just didn’t make sense. Elvis has always played a large thematic role for the company … Our food truck’s name is Priscilla after his wife. One day I just said how about Lisa Marie. Everyone loved the idea and the rest is history.