Matt D’Andraia had some tough culinary critics in his very opinionated and 100% Italian family but this Arlington native took their skepticism and channeled it into WeSayGravy, his blog and Instagram feed where he chronicles his adventures in the kitchen (his own and others’). Below D’Andraia takes a little break from his gastronomic pursuits to share his thoughts on the going-on in the Boston restaurant scene, his must-try list and what he sees coming down the pipeline.
Tell us a little about yourself. How’d you end up in Boston, and what inspired you to create your Instagram account?
Imagine spending 7 hours making homemade ravioli for your family, only to have your Dad throw them out after cooking up the first batch because he didn’t like them? Let’s just say I created my account because I have a chip on my shoulder to prove to my family that I can cook, and because I love experiencing all of the restaurants in Boston and beyond. I was born and raised in Arlington, Mass and have lived in the Greater Boston area my entire life. Coming from an 100% Italian family, food is obviously a big deal. A typical conversation on holidays consists of people yelling at each other that they don’t know how to cook a particular dish the right way, or arguing about how many pounds of pasta to make to make sure everybody has enough, or someone getting yelled at for putting parmesan cheese on lobster fra diavolo on Christmas eve. Everyone has their own ways to unwind after work – for me, I like to cook. I decided one day to just start blogging what I eat, and that turned into sharing my home cooking and restaurant visits.
Name the top five dishes on your Boston food bucket list.
Oh man…just 5? Sausage and Garlic pizza from Santarpios is #1 – and don’t forget to get a bbq combo before it of lamb and sausage. #2 The Tagliatelle Bolognese from Cinquecento in the South end. #3 Asada Torta from Tenoch. #4 Salmon on Fire from Oiishi. #5 Lobster Fra Diavolo from the Daily Catch in the North End.
What do you think the next big trend is for restaurants?
To continue to leverage and harness technology in order to interact with their customers on a more personal level in real time. There are so many ways that a restaurant can interact with customers on a personal basis: There are quite a few ways restaurants have started to do this: A reservation system, a POS system, leveraging social media accounts who are posting stories/tagging a restaurant in real time during their dining experience, or interacting with people who are commenting on certain dishes or restaurant reviews. This is all valuable data that restaurants can leverage in order to make better business decisions in the future. I don’t think restaurants have understood how to harness the data yet, but I can see a restaurant hiring just as many social media & technology positions as waiters/waitresses in the future.
Which chefs are your favorite to follow on Instagram and why?
Chef Cassie Piuma (@chefmamacass2) of Sarma – If you ask anyone I know, Sarma is probably the #1 restaurant I suggest for him/her to try. Every single dish is unique and has so many flavors going on. Another account I love is Juan Perez (@juangpizza), head chef of @Postoboston. This dude can make great pizza, and couldn’t have been more accommodating when I visited Posto. As for home cooking, I follow quite a few chefs in Italy, but @mistermario_ has inspired me to make unique pasta dishes. As for celebrity chefs, I met Bobby Flay at his restaurant in New York City (@gatonyc) and he commented/liked on one of my dishes a week later. That was awesome to receive a compliment from an Iron Chef – something I never thought I’d get when I first started out on Instagram with 0 followers. I’ve also interacted a lot with Chris Santos (@santoscooks) who is the owner of Beauty and Essex in NYC/Vegas/LA and a Chopped judge. He’s also a local guy from Fall River so I am a big fan.
Beyond chefs, what are your top three favorite food Instagram accounts to follow?
@forkingwitharmani has helped me since the first week that I started food blogging – whether it’s taking me on my first collab with a restaurant, or literally giving me his light when I first started out because I didn’t own one yet. Same goes to @Tasteofmassachusetts – I can’t thank him enough for all the tips (even though he made fun of me for eating Santarpios pizza with a fork and knife!). As for some Boston homecooks – Follow @bennyondablock. This guy cooks with truffles, and will even post about catching a trout in the swift river and show how he cooked it. Can’t forget about @woodfiredfood either – he has his own pizza oven in his backyard and makes awesome Neapolitan style pizzas.
Describe Boston’s food scene in three words.
I’ll say 3 words that describe three different food scenes that I notice in Boston: Vintage, Corporate, Trendy
Which restaurants haven’t you been to but you’re eager to try?
My cousin does not shut up about Pellana Prime Steakhouse in Lynnfield (@Pellana) so I’ve been meaning to get there for a steak. Co-workers rave about Pammy’s in Cambridge (@pammyscambridge), and my wife and I want to try Oleana (@oleanabuzz) which is also in Cambridge. Certain dishes I want to try are the ‘Ramen Cacio e Pepe’ from @littledonkeyboston, ‘Paella Salvaje’ from @barcelonawinebar, ‘Agnolotti del Plin’ from @giuliarestaurant, the ‘Saffon Tagliatelle’ from @bistrodumidi, and the Japanese A5 Steak from @oishiiboston
What’s your food photography philosophy, and can you share your top tips for taking awesome food photos?
My two important tips actually rhyme: Get a light (not your phone light), and focus on height. Whether it’s homecooking or at a restaurant I like to showcase how high that pasta is stacked, and I want to highlight those small pieces of parsley or that fresh cracked pepper that a light can pick up the small details on. Take multiple shots of your plate from different angles, THEN TASTE IT. Hold the light at different heights and angles and take multiple shots. If a particular ingredient stuck out to me in a dish, like mint for example, then I’m going to make sure that the photo I posted highlights the mint. If it took me 3 days to make pizza dough, then I’m going to focus in on the dough, not a cheese pull.
As for my homecooking – anything I post is shown how it’s made in stories so that people don’t think I’m buying pre-made pesto off the grocery store salad bar (believe me, I thought about it but I won’t do it!).
As for restaurants, I’ll post what I actually enjoyed eating. I try to incorporate the background of the restaurant in the food photo so that the viewer gets more ‘bang for their buck’. They see the food, and the décor of the restaurant all in one.
A Few Of Your Favorite Things:
Favorite brunch spot: @southernkin in Assembly row, the ‘Sokin Benedict is FIRE
Favorite place for outdoor dining: Bar Bruno in Positano, Italy overlooking the Amalfi Coast– sorry Boston.
Favorite BBQ joint: @blueribbonbbq in Arlington, have to support my hometown
Favorite late-night: @eatcinis right across from the Garden. It’s great to see a local owner from the North End grow his business there since they recently opened.
Favorite new restaurant: @foxandknife from Chef Karen Akunowicz – lots of dishes inspired from her time in Italy..I literally want to try every pasta dish there since they are so different from standard pasta dishes.