Mat Schuster, owner of Canela Bistro & Wine Bar (SF) is a Texas native and longtime Bay Area Chef. Founded in 2011, Canela Bistro & Wine Bar is the realization of a dream to share the love of Spanish cuisine and culture in San Francisco.
From Gambas al ajillo and Stuffed Piquillo peppers to Croquetas and Tortilla Española, Chef Mat finds comfort in Spanish cuisine and gives us the inside scoop on how he crafts his signature dishes.
How do you approach crafting menus to represent Spain at trade shows and sampling events?
To be honest, it is usually driven first and foremost by the different Spanish products that are being highlighted. Many times, they are products that have not been introduced in the USA yet, but not always. So there is a lot of fun and discovery involved. After I examine these highlighted products, I build a complimentary menu around them. Not to be biased, but Spaniards have a very high culinary standard! So no matter what I have been given to present, I am never disappointed!
How do you switch things up for exclusive sampling menus versus cooking demos?
Cooking demos many times allows you to show the versatility of the product, but it’s not always necessary. Since Spanish cuisine doesn’t typically have a huge number of ingredients per recipe, all the ingredients need to be very high quality and be able to stand on their own. Many times, sampling is the best way to showcase how each individual ingredient or product really is alone. But the cooking demos do have more to watch and are very fun to execute!
What are the key ingredients that are representative to Spanish cuisine?
So many to choose, but I would say cheeses, sweet and savory conserves, seafoods, extra virgin olive oil, saffron, pimentón (spanish paprika), sherry vinegar, jamón of course and don’t forget wine!
What are your favorite Spanish dishes to cook (and eat!) and why?
I will always have a special place in my heart for Spanish seafood. We prepare a lot of seafood at Canela as it takes me back to Spain every time. The country is almost entirely surrounded by water, so you can imagine how important seafood is to them. Also, since the Spaniards are so great at conserving seafood, you can enjoy it outside of Spain. There are varietals that only from from there, so I am glad there is a way to enjoy them here.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your signature menu items of Gambas and Stuffed Piquillo Peppers?
You can’t have a Spanish restaurant without shrimp! It is virtually impossible. We have had two versions on our menu since we opened. One is in a sauce of Spanish pimentón and dry sherry and the other is with a lot of garlic - another Spanish staple! Piquillo peppers are small, sweet roasted peppers that come from a region of Spain called Navarre. They are so versatile, you can stuff them with a million different ingredients and eat them hot or cold.
What are some of your favorite regions in Spain for food and wine?
All of them! That is like asking to choose your favorite child or pet! We tend to gravitate to southern Spain as that is where some of our family recipes come from - Andalucía. Also, growing up Jewish, I find many similarities of the arabic flavors from the south of Spain with Mediterranean flavors in some Jewish recipes.