From the start it’s obvious the only thing that trumps being a professional chef for Courtney Matheson is her 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Hendrix. And when it comes to the inspiration behind her budding new business, which includes personal chef services and cooking classes at Delish NC, Matheson says it’s no secret she attributes all the credit to Hendrix, too.
But here’s what many don’t know about the chef: Despite the sugar-coated anecdote on her business website about being in the kitchen with her mom, she didn’t always want to be a chef. In fact, she originally began in the fashion industry in New York City.
“I loved the music, the hustle and bustle and cocktails, but a few years into the textile business, I realized it wasn’t for me. I’m too crunchy for it.” Matheson jokes. “It was kind of a pain in the ass to make friends, because everyone already had their friends, and everyone was always too busy to make new ones. I shared a cubical with my boss. There was no creative freedom. Literally, one day I said to myself, ‘Is this my life?’ So, I quit.”
For the next four months, Matheson traveled all over the country. She hiked in the Berkshires, toured the Grand Canyon, went cliff-jumping, hung out in Sturgis during bike week, witnessed Phish in concert a whopping 82 times, and visited places like like Camden, New Jersey, Chula Vista, California, and everywhere in-between. It wasn’t until a casual phone call from a high school friend that prompted her to visit a city of which she admittedly had never even heard: Wilmington, North Carolina.
“I had been all over the United States and it never dawned on me to go to North Carolina,” she says. “It was the beach, the weather, and the people that prompted me to stay,”
And for the last 13 years, she has made Wilmington her home. “I started as a hostess at Front Street Brewery,” she says. “I wanted a kitchen job, because I always loved to cook, but that was the only position they had. Even after hostessing, I knew I was cut out for restaurant work.”
After five months as a hostess, Elijah’s called and Matheson began working the line. Simultaneously, while working night shifts at Elijah’s, she took a job at The George at the sauté station. Then she perfected her technique with international cuisine during a brief stint at Flavor Fusion as sous chef before the restaurant closed. Being on her toes, Matheson says, moving around a lot, and the adrenaline rush is exactly the atmosphere she craved. And let’s not forget about being tough-skinned, forward and unafraid in this industry. Yeah, Matheson has these qualities, too, and they date back to her very independent childhood.
“My mother shaped me the way I am today, because I learned how to fend for myself,” Matheson says. “I cooked many of my own meals, did my own laundry, shopped for groceries (walking to the store and back), wrote my own sick notes for school, signed my own permission slips, got myself ready for school, and so on. At a very early age, as early as I can remember: 6 or 7 years old.”
So, when Hendrix was born, despite being offered chef de partie at Elijah’s, last summer Matheson made the decision to resign, focus on her son, and to pursue her own personal goals. In doing so, she wanted to ensure Hendrix had a better childhood than she did.
When Matheson isn’t hosting cooking classes for parties, being a personal chef for her clientele twice a week, teaching other moms how to make their own organic baby food, managing her website, DelishNC.com, or savoring the imaginary burger—and slurping make-believe ketchup off her fingers Hendrix playfully pretends to serve—she is enjoying connecting people with Wilmington’s best and historic restaurants. She’s a tour guide for the three-hour Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour of downtown Wilmington. Tourists get to literally taste the adventure as Matheson delves into the local history of specific foods and dishes, the buildings surrounding them, and even the famous chefs who have come and gone. The best part: Matheson gives the tour all year round.
“I don’t advertise (my website or my business) at all,” she says. “Only through word-of-mouth for now, anyway. Once Hendrix goes to preschool, I’ll expand what I do—maybe even open my own restaurant. I love making a good salad, maybe I’ll do something like a salad bar—or something.”
Matheson tosses out the idea lightly; it’s something she has brainstormed on for a bit. Really, there’s no rush. For now, she just wants to be a chef and a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t really stay home very often.
To book your foodie adventure at Taste Carolina Gourmet Food Tour visit, www.tastecarolina.net. Or visit DelishNC.net to contact Courtney Matheson.