Chef Matty Matheson’s mission on ‘Dead Set on Life’ is to experience culture through the shared love of food. Matheson is seen in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Viceland, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Matty Matheson explores culture through food

TORONTO — Straddling a huge alligator during filming of the culinary travel show “Dead Set on Life” was something Matty Matheson did on the spur of the moment.

The Toronto chef was on a guided gator hunt in the Florida Everglades when the group hauled in the lengthy reptile.

“When we were pulling that 12-foot gator out of the water the guys were just, like, ‘Jump on it.’ I was, like, ‘OK,’” he says.

“I’m pretty much 300 pounds, (but) it’s a 12-foot. If it wanted to move …”

Afterward, the tattooed Matheson continues, ”I got up and realized what happened. I was in the moment and when I got off the gator I was kind of frazzled a bit. ‘What did I just do?’”

For the executive chef of Parts & Labour restaurant in Toronto, it’s all about the adrenaline rush.

During the eight episodes of the third season of “Dead Set on Life,” which kicks off Thursday on Vice, Matheson also travels to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Venice Beach, Calif., Australia, New Zealand, Thunder Bay, Ont., and Iceland.

“Out of all of those each one just had their moments,” he says.

“In Thunder Bay we did a sauna with some Finnish people and we did a frozen lake plunge. The night before I was, like, should we have EMS there? We’re jumping in a frozen lake. I’ve never done it before. Is my heart going to stop?

“We made a last-minute decision to bring EMS on site for it and that was super funny. That was a really big adrenaline rush.”

His goal is to celebrate a mutual passion for food with the people he meets — and have fun.

Of the food, he says with a laugh: ”Sometimes it’s amazing; sometimes it’s interesting.”

“Having an open mind is like seeing the world for what it is and taking it in and taking the best things away from it,” he says.

“I’ve seen some epic beauty in the past year and met some amazing, beautiful people.”

His philosophy is to cook simply and try to use local ingredients at Parts & Labour as much as possible, and that point was also hammered home to him during his travels.

In the Australian Outback, he was “helicoptered out to this billabong in the middle of nowhere” to fish for barramundi. He was taught to cook the catch over coals in paper bark culled from a nearby tree, which kept it moist and lent the fish a smokiness.

“All you need is salt and some lemon. It’s really cool to be able to use your elements,” he says.

“Ontario’s got an amazing bounty and beautiful farms with lambs, pigs, beef and water buffalo and amazing produce. We’re really lucky. I think travelling makes you feel really grateful for what I love.

“I love Toronto. I love Canada and I think every time I travel it’s so beautiful. It makes me excited to come home.”

Matheson, who had a heart attack at age 29, is candid about his battles with drugs and booze.

“Addiction issues are never over. You just deal with them. I was heavily into drugs and alcohol. In 3 1/2 years I haven’t had a sip or a sniff or a smoke or whatever. Life’s gotten a lot better.”

The 35-year-old father of a one-year-old son hopes to do another season of “Dead Set on Life.”

He’s slated to be master of ceremonies at Terroir Symposium, a gathering of influencers from the hospitality industry in Toronto at the end of May, and is working on a cookbook.

“It’s going to be my life up until now. Growing up in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., moving to Ontario, culinary school, cooking in restaurants. There will be a family section. It will be a Matty cookbook.”

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