Food for Thought: The Impermanence of ArtJun 25, 2021 04:39PM ● By Tara Spencer
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Tomatoes, peppers, chives, mushrooms, and onions placed carefully on a bed of chewy, sourdough focaccia bread form a portrait of puppy love. Matthew Scheffler has officially found a new hobby—creating art from bread.
Many people turned to the oven while stuck at home in 2020. However Scheffler’s bread affair began pre-pandemic. His mom would make simple banana breads when he was younger. While it wasn’t an interest at the time, later in life he started experimenting with baking his own and bringing his creations into work for coworkers and friends. One day he might use carrots, or make a zucchini bread, “just kind of spicing it up and making it a wacky bread.”
He tried his hand at making other types of loaves. “I tried wheat bread, I tried a marbled dry. I failed every time,” he said with a laugh.
“So it kind of turned into this joke, and I started getting a little adventurous,” he said. The interest was organic, becoming something he enjoyed doing on a regular basis. He started photographing his doughy creations, even starting an Instagram account. “I cracked myself up one night calling it Matt’s Breads.”
No doubt he cracks others up as well. The 31-year-old, who works at La Buvette, has an energy that is infectious even over Zoom. He walks from room to room, pausing longest in the kitchen to touch on his latest creation, a beet-infused pan of focaccia and a spinach puree for future use. “Look at this gorgeous green,” he said enthusiastically. He is also working on some sourdough brownies. “That’s a big hit…got some white chocolate and walnuts in there.”
Cooking was not something that came to him naturally. Scheffler said while he’s now been in the service industry for roughly seven years, it all began with a little fear at what used to be Saints Pub in Midtown Crossing. “I started as a terrified mid-20s server—absolutely terrified. And then they told me to bartend and I was terrified. And then they told me to cook, and I was terrified,” he said. “Now I’ve done pretty much everything besides G.M. but I do great at all of it….[I] kind of just hit the ground running with it all. I didn’t even know how to make a Jack and Coke, but here I am, making Long Islands,” he joked.
Baking sourdough bread was also intimidating at first. “It seems complicated and science-y. But then you just kind of get into the kitchen and do it.” Scheffler said the sourdough starter is like a pet. “You feed it every day, and you watch it bubble up, and you start to see it grow and get stronger, and you kind of take pride in your starter after a while…like a little baby. Or a Tamagotchi.”
His first sourdough attempt was trying to make a loaf, but he said that failed. “I didn’t have the equipment…I’m just working with what I have in my house.” After doing some research, he decided to try sourdough focaccia. “When I first tasted it, I was blown away. It was the first successful bread I’d ever made,” he said. “So I kind of stuck with that.”
Focaccia is his main jam right now, but this isn’t just any flat Italian bread. Scheffler has taken Matt’s Breads to a whole new level, recreating familiar works of art and creating his own using a variety of vegetables and herbs.
His friend and former coworker Katie Callaghan said he made her a vampire bread. “We were just talking, and I think I said a vampire would be cool and he said, ‘OK!’” The bread included peppers, tomatoes, onions, and black olives. “It tasted great,” Callaghan said.
Callaghan said she loved working with Scheffler, and not just for the free bread. “He was always in a good mood,” she said, before adding that he had “the strangest music taste.” A visit to the kitchen when he was working might reveal him blaring a Britney Spears tune one minute and rocking out to Slayer the next. “You never knew what he was gonna play.”
A look at Matt’s Breads’ Instagram page could draw some comparisons. One photo features a buttery-looking recreation of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss,” while the one before it is the Jurassic Park logo. His first attempt at creating art on bread was the aforementioned portrait of puppy love—a picture of his friend’s chihuahua. He also made one featuring Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist” for his father, who is a jazz guitarist with the Omaha Symphony.
Scheffler said he doesn’t consider himself to be terribly artistic. “I never tried to paint…my artistic background is doodling on bar napkins, I guess.” It’s these doodles, however, that spawn the ideas for his bread art.
While he might sketch things out beforehand, as he did with a recent Star Wars-themed creation, he said when it comes to creating the images, he uses an exacto knife to cut the vegetables. “It’s not like I can trace anything…so it’s pretty much winging it,” he said. “When you’re cutting out vegetables, there’s no erasing or going back.” He added that he does lay things out on a plate before placing them on the dough.
Sheffler said there is a wild card moment, in that you don’t know what it’s going to do once you bake it. “There’s kind of a magic about the impermanence of it all that kind of adds to the charm, I think, of the art,” he said. “Also, you’re gonna eat it. Like, I spend four hours doing the art, but I can’t wait for you to eat it, because it’s so good.”
Visit @matts_breads on Instagram for more information.