The Hinckley’s Story & Heritage
Chef Matt Hinckley's self-taught culinary career has centered on respectful farm-to-table cooking, exhibiting a humble approach to food by sourcing locally and honoring the quality of fresh ingredients. After cutting his teeth in restaurants spanning the globe – from Africa to New Zealand – in often remote and always demanding environments, Hinckley has returned home to Florida. With him comes over 15 years of culinary experience and a pedigree studded with leadership positions in both James Beard award-winning and Michelin-starred kitchens.
"I went to great measure to learn ways to use the whole animal from nose-to-tail. Zero waste. Like the locals did."
I read Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation shortly after it was written while working at a Whole Foods Market. I was blown away by the revelations of the industrialized food system. I had never known meat to be anything other than a faceless package in the grocery store. Shortly thereafter I left Florida to travel. I spent a few months on a tiny island off the coast of Nicaragua. On Christmas Eve I woke up to a pretty horrific sound right outside my bedroom window. When I went outside I saw a man with a machete methodically butchering the cow he had just slaughtered. There was a line of people with plastic shopping bags gathered around him. Each one of them took home some of this cow to cook for their Christmas dinners. The whole animal was used up. There was zero waste. Had I not read Schlosser’s book, I would believe this to be a much more barbaric system than our industrialized system. But these people were more intimately involved with their food than I was. As a chef, I felt humbled that this person with a machete in the remote Nicaraguan Caribbean knew how to butcher a whole animal and I hadn’t a clue.
Ultimately the experience would inspire me to travel more, learn more about myself, learn more from the locals, and bring a more sensible system home. I learned how to cull and butcher chickens and ducks, goats and lamb, pigs and wild boar, venison, alligators, iguanas, you name it. I went to great measure to learn ways to use the whole animal, from nose-to-tail. Zero waste. Like the locals did.
I was born in Niagara Falls, NY. My family moved to Orlando, FL in 1986 and have been here since. My mother and her mother spent a lot of time over the stove when my two brothers and I were growing up. I owe a lot of my attraction to the cooking to their efforts in the kitchen. They made the kitchen a place where the family gravitated.
My first job in a kitchen was when I was 16 years old and working for a mom & pop pizza joint called Dino’s off of Conway Road and Hoffner Avenue. I would bounce back and forth from restaurants for years while trying to find “real jobs”. I was in my early twenties before I realized that I would make a profession out of it.
I was working at Jiko, Disney’s flagship restaurant in the Animal Kingdom Lodge when the travel bug hit me. Most of the front-of-house staff were from South Africa and Morocco at the time and I wanted a similar experience to what they were having. I asked the Executive Chef if I could go to China to open the soon-to-be new Disney property there. He told me that he didn’t have the connections to get me in the door there and advised me to “just put on a backpack and go” if I wanted to travel.
So I scoured the classifieds for any international work that I could find. That search ultimately landed me in the remote Nicaraguan Caribbean for a 3-month stint at a small beach hideaway on Little Corn Island. This was the Caribbean that Hemingway wrote about. I arrived with about $200 to my name. I had very limited access to ingredients and it really helped me to start seeing things in new ways. There was a small garden on the property and whatever was ready for harvest was left in a wheelbarrow by my kitchen door. It was usually paired with whatever our boat captain drug out of the sea that day.
Three months later I had saved enough to get a ticket to Alaska - arriving again with next to no money. The contrast between the ingredients in Alaska and the Caribbean was huge. Plantains were practically free in Nicaragua. You couldn’t buy them in Alaska. But there was salmon aplenty and I spent another summer in my own sort of test kitchen using mushrooms, berries, game meats, and anything I could ferment.
When the Alaskan summer was up I moved on to New Zealand. I would ultimately bounce back and forth from New Zealand and Alaska chasing the sun for a few years. New Zealand’s approach to sustainable agriculture and access to new and strange ingredients made it an eye-opening experience. I would travel through Australia, Fiji, and French Polynesia whenever I needed to island hop for a passport stamp.
After years of begging for a job in remote Africa I finally got my chance and booked a flight to Tanzania where I would work for about a year on another remote island called Mafia, just south of Zanzibar on the Swahili Coast.
I only saw three other Americans in my entire time there. I spent a lot of time trying to learn about authentic African food and trying to figure out the history behind the foods that were similar in the unspoiled Caribbean. I’m forever grateful for having the chance to work at Kinasi and the strangeness of Mafia Island has provided me with a lifetime of stories to tell.
I returned to Florida after about 5 years of wandering around with a backpack. I spent a year acclimating to my own culture while working in a Miami hotel. And then I took a job working with James Beard award-winning Michael Schwartz at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. It remains my favorite kitchen of all time and I’m thankful that I got to be a part of the team that helped bring that award home. I would go on to open Harry’s Pizzeria before moving on to travel a bit more.
After leaving Harry’s I spent about 3-months road tripping across the US and Canada with Crystal, my wife, who has been by my side since New Zealand. We would ultimately land in New York City where I took a job working with Brad Farmerie first at Saxon + Parole and then at the helm of the Michelin-starred flagship, PUBLIC. I learned a lot of new techniques in both kitchens and had the privilege of working next to some very talented cooks and chefs. We maintained the Michelin star and I moved on once again. This time headed back, full circle, to Orlando where the adventure began.
I want to bring all of the knowledge that I gained, all of the technique that I learned, all of the responsible farming practices I became familiar with, and all of the stories that I picked up along the way back home so that I can share them with my friends and family.