Matt Lee

Matt Lee

August 29, 2012
Chef brings new brand of culinary craft to downtown Richmond
This fall, the University of Richmond is adding a new destination to the city’s downtown culinary landscape.

Located at UR Downtown, the Richmond on Broad Café will open in September. Under the direction of chef Matt Lee and operated by Dining Services, the café will serve a dynamic menu of made-to-order breakfast and lunch fare. The menu will feature bold and creative sandwiches, fresh pastries and desserts, and extensive salad bar options, relying heavily on relationships with farmers and local vendors to provide seasonal produce and ingredients.

Lee brings to the table a broad culinary history, including high-volume steakhouses, New York-style pizza, and fine dining restaurants. As executive chef and food and beverage director of Granite Restaurant and Bar at The Centennial Hotel in Concord, N.H., Lee also had the opportunity to help shape the direction of a newly renovated hotel.

At Richmond on Broad, Lee is helping craft the latest venture to connect the University with the city. He talks about his vision for the café, what it takes to open a new restaurant, and what to expect on the menu.

How would you describe your style?
I describe myself as having New American cuisine without borders. It’s cuisine that sees America as a melting pot and uses all those cultural influences that we have, from Spanish to Mexican to Italian to French. I love to grab from those influences, but try to stay true to them and represent those cultures in the best way I can.

What’s your vision for Richmond on Broad?
We’re going to have some really good, healthy items there. I want to focus on bringing in some local ingredients in the salad bar and representing those ingredients well. We’re going to have some great breads. There are going to be some Southern-style sandwiches, some Italian sandwiches, some creative sandwiches that have great textures and flavors. I definitely come with some bolder flavors.

Is there anything on the menu that stands out?
We have a couple of breakfast sandwiches that I really like. They’re kind of simple. One of them is on a thick honey wheat English muffin, and we’re doing turkey bacon with tomato aioli, egg white, and tomato salsa. It has really nice flavor and little bit of a tang with the salsa, which I think is a nice option for a breakfast item. And it will be healthy as well. We also have, on a croissant, an egg with applewood-smoked bacon, tomato aioli, and just a nice slice of tomato on top.

Why is using local food important to you?
For one thing, local produce tends to taste better. A lot of produce is ripened on the truck or overseas, so it’s picked early and it doesn’t have enough time to develop the flavor. Take Hanover tomatoes — how meaty and juicy they are, and how great the flavors are. It makes a huge difference.

And I just love the relationships that you can develop with the farmers. You can go in that day and look at what you have on hand, and you just create something with the product you have that day. That’s exciting.

What makes a restaurant opening both challenging and exciting?
The challenges of opening a restaurant have to do with equipment and timing and figuring out the logistics of how things are going to be done. We have to make sure that all of the organizational pieces are in place so that everyone’s comfortable and confident in what they’re doing and we’re putting our best foot forward on day one. With a new restaurant, you never want to make a bad impression, no matter what. Everything has to be right. I love being a part of something new, and being successful. And I love being able to put my name and the University’s name on it.