Food & Culture

Matt Okine: how I eat

The comedian on Ghanaian street food, playing "Breadpool" with Ryan Reynolds, and his strange method for consuming ramen.

By Lee Tran Lam
Matt Okine.
What did you enjoy eating when you were growing up in Brisbane?
My dad's chichingas. They're like a beef skewer with a nutty dry rub over them. My dad ran a food stall at Woodford Folk Festival. He made Ghanaian food like black-eyed bean stew, peanut soup, jollof rice and chichingas. I was bored out of my brain at a folk festival so they got me through the day.
The dad in your book, Being Black 'n Chicken, & Chips, is a dentist like your father. Did your dad also tell you to eat cheese after soft drinks, to protect your teeth?
I still get that advice! I'd be getting ready to go to a party and dad would say, "Now if you have any fizzy drinks, make sure you have some cheese." I'm like, "Dad, this isn't a wine and Camembert night. This is a high-school party."
Did this advice inspire you to carry Kraft Singles, like the book's protagonist?
No, it's never inspired me to pack cheese. I had the most amazing cheese at Neal's Yard in London: the St Cera. You won't be able to get it in Australia and that's heartbreaking. So I don't know if I'm gonna have to block in a trip to London. But dad would be proud. Maybe I'll get him to fund it: I'll say, "It's for cheese, Dad! I'm trying to save my teeth!"
Have you had any disastrous comedy gigs?
In Hong Kong, I was MCing two shows at the same time: running from one act, welcoming the act in the next room, back and forth. It was like one of those cartoons where a character goes on a date with two people at the same time. I did a big callback to a joke that I said earlier and it was dead silent. Suddenly, it occurred to me, I didn't tell that joke in this room before, did I? And it was my big closer! So I had to explain the joke. Nothing kills a joke like trying to explain what you were meant to say 20 minutes ago.
On Short Cuts to Glory, you were onscreen with chefs such as Neil Perry. Do you have any cooking tips from the show?
Salt is a microphone for flavour. If you've got an orchestra and you put microphones in front of each instrument, you can determine how loud you want each instrument. But if you put one microphone in front of them, you're raising the combined sound. Sometimes you just want to salt the tomatoes, because that amplifies the flavour.
I hear you're a fan of Japan's one-person ramen booths?
Totally! Because I like eating noodles in a strange way: I lift them above my head and let them dangle into my mouth, like a bird being fed by its mother. I can't be doing that in a restaurant in Australia. But in Japan, when the walls are up, and there's only a curtain in front of you, then it's Bird Noodleman all the way!
When you co-hosted Triple J's Breakfast in 2016, you played "Breadpool" with Deadpool's Ryan Reynolds, where you used baguettes instead of pool cues to sink balls. What was that like?
That was possibly the dumbest idea that Alex Dyson, my co-host, ever had. But it was an experience: not many people can say they played "Breadpool" with Ryan Reynolds.
On your show, The Other Guy, one character says she wants to create a sushi train with sandwiches. Do you think that's a good idea?
I don't understand why people don't take the sushi-train method and apply it to everything. I'm a sampler. The problem with a sandwich train is that the name Subway is already taken.
When you were on Triple J, was there an experience that really stayed with you?
Celebrating Mother's Day with Alex Dyson. We both lost our mums when we were very young: Alex was four, I was 12. And sharing those experiences with so many people was really touching.
Do you find comfort in using humour to talk about grief?
In the book, my character says, "God made humans with the laugh and cry buttons right next to each other." Sometimes people can go from laughing to crying in a heartbeat. It's important to acknowledge both sides of people's emotive range.
For your Sydney book launch, you handed out chicken and chips. How did it go?
I thought supporting Dave Chappelle at the Opera House was a big deal. Or being in the new Dora the Explorer movie. Or having my own TV show. But I was wrong: having your own food truck, that is the top.
What makes a good chip?
Surface area, crunch and seasoning. I'm all about shoestring fries; I'm not really into beer-battered ones.
Is it true that you've written a list of the top 18 ways to prepare and eat a potato?
I have done so, yes. Hot chips with extra salt: that's number two. Number one is a bag of salt-and-vinegar crinkle-cut chips, preferably eaten in bed on a Sunday morning.
Matt Okine appears in The Other Guy on Stan and Short Cuts to Glory on ABC iview. His book, Being Black 'n Chicken, & Chips (Hachette, $29.99, pbk), is out now.
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