Matteo Porcedda, a second year rhetoric major, has lived in Cloyne for almost a year. He is a passionate musician and cook: he is equally crazy about hip hop music as he is about some good old baked chicken. In Cloyne, not only has he found a second home, but a source of musical inspiration, and a dream kitchen where he could ‘get wild’ with food. Currently one of the fourteen head cooks of Cloyne, Matteo takes pride in serving his family’s recipe to satiate a hundred and fifty members of the house. Although this requires hours of work and preparation, he makes no complaint. Instead, he sees its as an outlet to express his love for Cloyne. He is also adventurous and spontaneous. In Cloyne he finds the perfect environment and liberty to unleash the side of his. In today’s article, Matteo tells us about the joys and challenges of being head cook, and the perks of living in Cloyne.
Matteo began as an assistant cook last semester (Fall 2013), he initially tried out to be a head cook and unfortunately didn’t make the cut. ‘I was heartbroken’, he says as he stares into far space, as if he could still experience the emotional pain, ‘I’m Italian and cooking is in my blood. It’s really personal to me and I even wrote about it in my poetry class.’ Undefeated, Matteo was happy to participate again in the cooking trial this semester. Cooking has long been his family tradition and culture, and being able to showcase his father’s recipe to his fellow housemates adds on to his excitement and ambition. This time, he made a minestrone soup.
‘I remember it was like the size of a canon and I had to reach in with my whole arm, I felt like the captain of a ship,’ he giggles as he describes, ‘It was so stressful and half way through I didn’t think I was going to make it on time. When I was making it and I wondered, “Are people going to like this? I put everything into this – are they gonna think it’s some weird Italian soup?”’
After hours of sweat and uncertainty, Matteo’s hard work eventually paid off. The house loved the soup and finally elected him as a head cook. ‘People kept on coming up to me and complimenting on the soup. This speak a lot about the benefits of co-op living: having a community that notices, validates and affirms you, and it takes time to do so.’
From then on, Matteo has been taking weekly cook shifts with another fellow head cook and three other assistant cooks. Cooking for a large house like Cloyne is definitely no easy task. Every workday he begins his shift at two in the afternoon, and food has to be ready at exactly seven. Five hours is barely enough time for Matteo. ‘Say when we’re doing a chicken,’ Matteo explains, ‘we also have to think of gluten free option, vegan option, vegetarian option, and on top of that there are also salad and dessert. When we don’t make it on time, people start to complain – they get hungry, you know? Everyone’s busy at Cal and has their own thing to do.’ He admits that cooking indeed is a stressful and tiring process, and half-jokingly says that by the end of it, he just wants to take a nap. However, cooking is more than just a routine to him. In the midst of panic and distress, cooking is an excellent way to build friendship.
‘The whole idea of having to maintain something is sort of like taking care of this big kid of the house. We (the cooks) are all like parents, who have to take care of it together, and I feel like that unites us. Especially on a scale this big – when we’re cooking, we’re cooking for a hundred and fifty people; if we’re making brownies, we’re using forty cups of flour; if we’re making chickens, we’re making ten chickens. It’s a lot of food, and it becomes like the Food Network Challenge sometimes. We unite through this conflict, and we become friends. Being involved in a work situation like this really has brought us together, and allowed us to be emotionally vulnerable with each other.’
More importantly, it is simply the joy that he sees in his fellow housemates after serving them a good dinner that gives him the ultimate motivation. ‘We do it to show our love for the co-op, so it’s more than just getting the job done. We do really care about this house.’
His specialty is chicken, and he is particularly proud of his range of dishes that he is able to create with chicken. He could happily talk about making chicken as long as he pleases.
‘My fellow cook Aaron and I, we like to get kind of wild with our chicken. So, the other day we made this pineapple garlic glazed chicken. We didn’t know if it was going to work – we stuffed it with pineapple, put some ground garlic under the skin then made some pineapple syrup to go on top of it, but you gotta risk for the biscuit, and it ended up being bomb – so bomb. We’re lucky to have good chickens too.’ The food managers of Cloyne are in charge of finding the most local and sustainable food that fit within their budget. Eighty percent of their groceries are organic – meat such as chicken, comes from animals that are locally raised. ‘It’s nice to have that resource support,’ says Matteo, ‘It’s like we have a whole farmers market in our fridge. We have beets, mushrooms, green onions, eggs, cabbage – everything.’
When asked what his favourite house event is, Matteo gives a long pause before he eventually responds. It turns out that (surprisingly), his favourite event is food-related. ‘I’d say special brunch that we had last semester. You can hear all about special brunch, but you won’t get the real feel until you actually taste the food! People prepare for this two weeks in advance. They choose a recipe, and there are twenty cooks, each with a dish to feed up to fifty people. I ended up making a hundred baked potatoes, and there were also gingerbread houses, sausages, breaded meat… It was a really creative moment. It could be perceived as wasteful but we were conscious of that, we put the leftovers in the fridge. It wasn’t just about the eating either. We rented out a bouncy house, it was a beautiful day and we had music and sunshine and everyone was dancing and dressed up in lederhosens.’
Besides cooking, Matteo likes to produce hip-hop music and play the guitar in his free time. He is grateful that Cloyne gives him the opportunity to so, as he often visits the music room which only people with instruments have a key to.
‘I love spending time there and making music. I’d be working on a music project down there and another person will come in, and they’d be playing jazz, or practising vibes. I like to be interrupted by them. It opens my mind.’
Not only does he find Cloyne musically stimulating, but also intellectually as Cloyne is home to all types of majors. ‘People are in the kitchen or study room studying every night. There’s definitely a communal energy of studying together, and what’s cool is hearing all these conversations during these study sessions that happen between disciplines. Any sort of conversation that happens during this time has a very diverse group of voices, and sometimes there are disagreements. That’s my favourite part. This house cannot be summed up as one culture. ’
No longer able to live in Cloyne, Matteo will miss the most the open-mindedness that is unique to Cloyne. ‘It provides the opportunity to experiment, not in terms of using drugs,’ Matteo explains, ‘but say if I want to dress up as a girl – I could mess around with gender norms, and play with my sexuality without being labelled. It’s very socially progressive in that sense that we try to break that gender boundary, and it gives people a safe place to experiment. It’s hard to find the same environment anywhere else.’ A mural that says ‘I’m glad that we met’ at the entrance of the house sums up his bittersweet emotions.
‘College is a very fleeting place, so is Cloyne, we’re only here for four years and in the end, people go separate ways and live separate lives. It reminds me of my dad’s philosophy on life, like what he said before he passed away, è stato bellissimo, meaning it was beautiful. It’s about accepting the truth and closure on things, but also appreciating the beauty of it. ‘
Article written by Loretta Chan. Images c/o of Loretta Chan.