By any accounts, Matthew Wadiak has had a successful career. After working in kitchens as a young man, Wadiak and his two partners founded Blue Apron, a meal-kit company that grew to $795 million in sales in just five years before launching an IPO.
But two years ago, Wadiak started a new venture, once again taking aim at the way in which people purchase and consume food. Only this time, the venture stemmed not from a desire to help people cook more, but to build a model for a new type of environmentally and economically sustainable food system. From its 800-acre farm, Cooks Venture is building a viable model of regenerative agriculture that climate scientists agree could reverse climate change, one chicken at a time.
Kenny Gould: Where are you from?
Matthew Wadiak: I was born in Houston. In middle school, I moved to Illinois. I grew up outside Chicago and then moved to northern Illinois, to a little town called Roscoe. I’d always been I interested in cooking. When I was sick at home, I’d watch Galloping Gourmet or Julia Child or whatever was on PBS. Then I’d go to the bookstore and buy a cookbook. As a kid, I’d cook family meals. So when the time came to get a high school job, I decided to work as a dishwasher in a restaurant. I worked at Mary’s Market for a Cajun chef named Chris Avonda. I learned the basics from him. He taught me how to cut a tenderloin, how to cut fish. It was a very comprehensive training. He hired a sous chef who had the intention of opening a brewery with her husband. Her name was Stephanie Valentine and she became my boss. She’d just come from Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. She also took me under her wing and taught me how to clean, how to not mess with food too much, how to create a higher level of cooking. Chris got me the basics and Stephanie took me to another level.