Kitchen tips with chef Matt Valentino
What better chef to profile for a love-focused issue than a guy named Valentino who serves up seared scallops and chocolate molten cake with fresh berries at The Pearl Kitchen & Bar in Bluffton?
Story by Robyn Passante + Photography by Celia G Photography
Matt Valentino has been head chef at The Pearl since it opened almost three years ago, after bouncing around the Lowcountry from Palmetto Bluff to Poseidon with several stops in between. But his love for cooking was sparked in his childhood home many years ago.
“I always used to help my mom in the kitchen and my other two brothers were never really interested,” says Valentino, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of Savannah in 2008. “So I realized that I was interested in something that was unique.”
What isn’t unique is how the average cook could benefit from a few pro tips, so we asked Valentino to serve up some secrets.
What Matt Loves
- Favorite TV show: “The Office”
- Favorite movie: “Dumb and Dumber”
- Favorite Band: Pink Floyd’s one of my favorite older bands. I like Zac Brown Band for country; and Fleetwood Mac.
- Favorite thing to do on a night off: Cook for my wife and hang out with my daughter, who’s 20 months.
- Favorite breakfast dish: I like a good frittata that’s got leftover potatoes, pasta, anything you can find in the fridge to throw in it.
- Favorite Beer: Sweetwater 420
- Favorite vacation spot: I wish I could say I have vacation. Probably going to see my family in Pennsylvania.
- Favorite celebrity chef: Gordon Ramsay
- Favorite cuisine to eat: Italian
- Favorite cuisine to cook: Thai
- Favorite app on your phone: Facebook, Snapchat
- Favorite Lowcountry locale: The Dispensary in Bluffton. My wife and I like to go there for brunch with our daughter; we can sit outside and listen to live music.
Stop with the turn-turn-turning.
“I’ve seen people cook at home and when they cook meat they’re constantly turning it. And when you cook it and then turn it, just that one rotation will help balance out the juices. But if you keep flipping it, you’re going to lose a lot of the juices and it disrupts the cooking procedure.”
Sear fish on just one side.
For fish like halibut or grouper, sear one side and then cook it low and slow on that same side (about 5-8 minutes for a 1-inch thickness). “At the very end, flip it and let it just kiss the pan, finish out cooking the other side for maybe 30 seconds,” Valentino suggests.
“A lot of people will sear a piece of fish and cook it on one side, and then sear it and cook it again on the other side. But if you sear both sides, it’ll cook it too much.”
Cut down on crying in the kitchen.
“If onions make you cry, you can put them in the freezer for about 30 minutes, and it balances out the chemicals and the reaction that makes you cry.”
Handle your burgers with care.
“You have to patty them really well because if there are cracks, a lot of the juices come out,” he says. “If you mold a burger with your hands and let the warmth from your hands melt the fat, it creates a seal. And then if you put it in a pan and cook it and just flip it once, it’ll cook through and hold all those juices and flavor in.” And don’t press the juices out of the meat!
Account for the carryover cooking.
Food doesn’t just stay warm once it’s removed from the heat, it actually continues cooking for a bit. There’s 10 to 15 degrees of carryover,” Valentino says, which many people don’t account for when deciding if something’s “done.”
“I’ve seen family members and friends try to make prime rib, and they’ll take it out and say ‘it’s medium rare,’ and then suddenly it’s well done.”