This is part one of Robin Wheeler's Chef's Choice profile of Freddie Holland of Match Foods, Inc., maker of Match Meats. Part two, a Q&A with Holland, is available here, and part three, a recipe, can be found here.
"I was raised on a farm. We raised our cows with bottles, had them for a year and slaughtered them basically in our back yards. Chickens, basically the whole bit. When you're raised in that environment, you have to form your beliefs. The food was placed in front of me. I didn't have a lot of choice," explains Freddie Holland, the executive chef for St. Louis-based Match Meat.
"Then I acquired a taste for it. Saturated fat makes the world go round as far as I'm concerned. I crave it all the time, just like nicotine or alcohol for a lot of people. I don't know how to process that information, still, because I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan. But I make vegan meat."
(To read Aimee Levitt's 2009 feature about the vegetarian meat substitute and Allison Burgess, who founded the company that manufactures it, click here.)
Holland grew up on a farm in Pickneyville, Illinois, which isn't exactly a hotbed of vegetarian activity or gourmet eats. Not that this mattered to Holland, who learned to cook at his mother's side.
"I started cooking with my mom when I was eight years old. I can even remember the day I decided that I was going to be a chef: I was sitting at the table and I had a ball of pie dough in front of me that my mom gave me like Play-Doh. I remember making a conscious decision that this is what I'm good at. I've cooked ever since.
"My mom was very forward thinking. I had an opportunity to go to France my sophomore year in high school. She said, 'Well, you're going. If you're going to be a chef, then you need to see what a chef is.' That was one of the first places I went. My head basically exploded. I saw food as art: This can be art."
After high school Holland graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. "I was going to be the chef to the stars. I accepted a position with the senior vice president of Coca-Cola in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. I was in charge of all the entertaining, meal planning."
He came to St. Louis to work as a personal chef, then moved to Miami's South Beach to work as the personal chef for the current owner of the Versace mansion. But family crisis intervened.
"My mom took ill, and I quit everything and moved back home. I helped her until she passed. In the meantime I met my partner. I had a home. I had a garden. And I had friends, which is something you can't have when you're living that lifestyle.
"I had the possibility of an interview with [music producer] L.A. Reid in Atlanta, and I refused it. I just said okay, I have to make this work here.' One day I went for a run in Forest Park and I just reinvented myself. I said okay, this is who I am now, and I'm going for it. I didn't know where it was going to lead me, so I basically invented myself as the possibility of creating healthy spaces for people to make healthy life choices for themselves. Whatever that meant, I was going to surround myself with people who had the same possibility."
Not that health consciousness was new to Holland. "I was an obese child, so maybe I can tackle the childhood-obesity thing," he laughs.
That endeavor didn't go as planned; most of the kids he worked with didn't have the support system he had as a teen, when he and his father changed their eating habits and lost a hundred pounds apiece.
"Parents are dropping kids off, wanting them to lose all this weight and adapt this healthy lifestyle, but they don't want to do it themselves," he says.
Holland has maintained his weight through years of healthy eating. "I would do all of these elaborate, fancy parties and food offerings, and I was serving food that I couldn't eat myself," he says. "That gets old after a while. It wasn't until I started working with Match that I was reborn. I can make these things that were taboo, that I couldn't eat any more, that I still crave, like Italian sausage."
He discovered Match while making brunch at the World Café. "I didn't realize I was attracting a lot of vegetarians, and it really irked me that they couldn't eat this thing that I put my blood, sweat and tears into. So I started investigating the alternatives, which I'd never messed with. You couldn't make a recipe with what was on the market, and the texture was terrible.
"Then somebody told me about [Match creator] Allison Burgess and what she was doing. I found her, I got ahold of her chicken and beef, and I started playing with it. When I saw it, I immediately wanted to make sausage like we did down on the farm. I was making breakfast-sausage patties out of a mixture of the beef and chicken.
"What really got me was, I put it on the buffet and I realized that whatever I made with Match, it would appeal to people. They weren't eating it because they were vegetarian. They just ate it because it was good."
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