Growing up, Matt Balke never pictured himself anywhere other than working in a kitchen. Balke’s philosophy of self-discipline has propelled him forward in his cooking career. With his extensive education and training, his dedication to detail shows in every dish.
Hailing from the rural town of Uvalde, Balke is a born and raised Texas native with a penchant for hard work. With degrees in business marketing and hotel restaurant management from Texas Tech under his belt, Balke pursued his love for the kitchen and attended the Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated as salutatorian in 2007. His passion for wine pairings is only outmatched by his love for cooking, and he says that if he was not in the food industry, he would be the wine industry.
After graduation, Balke was taken on by James Beard Award-winning chef Sharon Hage of York Street in Dallas where he gained insights to local and seasonal food. He credits his success to Hage, and says that despite a college education and formal training, his real culinary education came from working under her. Balke’s tenure at York Street prepared him for his move, Bolsa and Bolsa Mercado where he became the executive sous chef. He spent two and a half years with Bolsa before his stint as the executive chef of The Rustic in Dallas, from there he moved to SMOKE where he worked at Bolsa's sister restaurant for nearly two years. After SMOKE, Bolsa gladly weclomed Balke back as the executive chef.
Balke appreciates the small-town feel of his kitchen and thinks of his team as family. “You fight, eat, share, teach, respect and care for each person in the building because you usually spend every waking moment with them,” he explains.
Balke also draws inspiration from Tim Byres, co-owner and executive chef at SMOKE. “Not many people can pull off a fine dining smoke house but Tim seems to have mastered it,” he says. He also states that braising has become one of his favorite cooking techniques, thanks to his time at SMOKE. The excitement of the kitchen keeps him on his toes, and in Balke’s mind, the work is never done.
Bolsa Mercado Chef
Chef Justo attended the Texas Culinary Academy in 2003. He then began his adventures. Where he found himself cooking in Brazil, Hawaii, Italy, Berlin, Nice, Mexico City, Peru, Costa Rica, and Switzerland. In 2008, he began his travels of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand, where he attended Bai Pai cooking school of Bangkok. Chef Blanco fine tuned his techniques of Southeast Asian and Indian Cuisines by attending World Gourmet Summit, and working side by side with Master Chef Milind Sovani of Song of India restaurant. After returning stateside, Chef Blanco left San Francisco for his hometown of Dallas, TX. There he joined the team of Aperture Concepts as the Chef de Cuisine of Scene restaurant, a posh downtown eatery. There the menu consisted of comfort foods deconstructed using molecular gastronomy. In, 2009, Chef Blanco joined the Four Seasons resort and Club in Las Colinas where he was charge of all banquets and special events. In 2012, to return to his native Peru to work for Rafael Osterling at famed Lima cevicheria El Mercado where he trained in modern Peruvian cuisine, and toured the virgin jungle of the Amazon in search of unique ingredients and techniques. He rediscovers his love of global food and cultures yearly by traveling as much as much as possible.