By Virginie Boone
Sonoma County is full of great chefs, from Healdsburg to Sonoma, from our border along the Napa Valley to the coast. But because of the bounty of things that grow here, wine grapes very much included, it also attracts chefs from all over the world, to come and cook here when they can.
Matt Horn is one such chef, who will be cooking a Sonoma County-style barbecue lunch at Dutton Ranch during the events of Healdsburg Wine & Food.
As gifted a pitmaster as you’ll find, Horn opened Horn Barbecue in West Oakland in October 2020, cooking thousands of free meals for the community during the height of Covid. Food, for Horn, has always represented a communal bond and an arena for storytelling, a way to pay homage to pitmasters of the past.
Along the way, he’s been honored as one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, been a James Beard Award finalist and earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand, credited by The New York Times with creating his own “unmistakable and unconfined style of California barbecue.” His cookbook, “Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ,” came out in April, 2022.
Credited with creating the category of “West Coast barbecue,” the self-taught Horn never worked in a restaurant before starting his own and didn’t even start cooking until he was in his 20s. From Fresno, he worked in sporting goods stores in Southern California and lived on fast food until finding his calling in cooking. Barbecue became an obsession.
“I asked myself, ‘If I could eat something every day, be around something, what would it be?’” he told Food & Wine’s Khushbu Shah. “And the thing that was deposited on me, into my heart, was barbecue. I think it’s the primal instinct of being around fire and cooking.”
His grandmother’s backyard became an experimental outdoor kitchen for Horn to find his way. Once he did, he started selling his barbecue at the local farmers market in Tracy, where he had moved into his in-laws’ place with his wife Nina and baby son.
Pop-ups soon followed before he literally envisioned having his own restaurant. Finally settled, at Horn Barbecue he cooked out of a 1,000-gallon offset smoker.
He has since also opened Kowbird, a phenomenal fried chicken concept, with locations in Oakland and Las Vegas, and Matty’s Old Fashioned, also in Oakland, a burger-centered nod to classic diners. He also runs AH2, a hospitality group that aims to empower chefs from minority communities.
Ingredients for all these concepts are of course important. As Horn told The New York Times, he cares most about the quality of the meats, and he works with small, regenerative farms in California to get the best.
As Food & Wine reported, last November a fire destroyed Horn Barbecue and a GoFundMe was set up to help Horn rebuild. Give him your support and meet this masterful chef and storyteller this May when he comes to Dutton Ranch for an unforgettable lunch paired with Sonoma County wines.