The food industry is often imbued with tradition, but celebrity chef, author and TV personality Matt Basile is renowned for always striving to do things differently.
After creating Toronto’s first street food experience company, Fidel Gastro’s, and popular gastropub and brunch hotspot, Lisa Marie, Basile is now set to disrupt the barbecue and live-fire cooking landscape with a game-changing cooking tool.
Over the pandemic, he turned his creative sparks into an innovative fire in the form of a revolutionary new product set to launch in 2023 – the world’s first simultaneous live-fire grill and smoker, Alchemy Grill. As co-founder and chef of Alchemy Grills, Basile’s unique culinary expertise earned him the official title of ‘Creative Fire Starter’ – a nostalgic nod to his love of Essex EDM band Prodigy.
In his previous world at Fidel Gastro’s, Basile and his team spent a lot of time riding the waves of COVID-19’s associated lockdowns and let-ups. This meant a lot of touch and go with opening and closing of various ventures like meal delivery menus and food truck events. “It felt like we were back in year one,” he says. In the midst of all this turmoil, he was on the hunt for his next project.
In January of 2021, a friend of Basile’s reached out with a proposition to be an influencer for a barbecue company. He took a meeting, and they ended up talking for hours and hours, lobbing ideas back and forth, and concepting. Basile brought a vast culinary knowledge they had been needing, and he came out of that meeting with an offer to be a third partner in the company, and a project to develop and launch a barbecue.
“It was obviously not something I had ever done before, but there was a lot of overlapping with things that I had been working on,” he says. “For the first time ever, I was working with engineers who were taking my ideas from a culinary standpoint and applying them to a physical thing. It was a quite a creative process.”
For the first time ever, I was working with engineers who were taking my ideas from a culinary standpoint and applying them to a physical thing.
For Basile and the Alchemy team, the goal was to engineer something that could simultaneously smoke at a low temperature, and grill and sear at a high temperature. The live fire cooking is the high-temperature grilling component, and beneath that is a stackable smoker with four shelving units for smoking at 275°F.
At the beginning of June 2022, they received their first prototype. This meant Basile could begin playing with it, and he was amazed at how unique and fun it was. “I was excited because I had never seen anything like this come to life,” he says. “We’re coming to market with something that … combines all my favourite aspects of cooking in one place.”
Like many of us, Chef Matt Basile has always been drawn to fire and flame. As Creative Fire Starter, Basile is dialing into the things he loves most about this industry – culinary art and content. “All my responsibilities fall within a culinary landscape or in a marketing and content landscape,” Basile explains. “Some days I’m more culinary than I am content, some days I’m more content than I am culinary. Either way, my day starts with starting a fire because I start every morning with building a literal fire, and that fire is now how I move through my day, and through this project.”
When most people think barbecue, they think ribs, burgers, kebabs, chicken. “Live fire cooking can be so much more than that,” Basile offers. “It can be seafood, it can be vegetables, it can be eggs, it can be fried rice. It can be anything that you can cook indoors – I’m going to try to showcase that you can cook it all over fire.” From smoked soups and dips, to tacos and shepherds pies, Basile still hasn’t found the limits with live-fire cooking.
Some days I’m more culinary than I am content, some days I’m more content than I am culinary. Either way, my day starts with starting a fire.
He also touches on some macro-trends we’ve seen come out of the pandemic era. Not only has a gardening trend bloomed over the past few years, but people have also been eating and cooking more meals outdoors. When the pandemic threw the world for a loop, homesteading had a resurgence. Perhaps this is because when people are cut off from their typical networks and societal structures are revealed to be incredibly vulnerable, we realize how community level self-sustenance is valuable. “Going back to your roots is so important,” Basile says. During the pandemic, he and his partner Kyla Zanardi started a vegetable garden to be able to grow some of their own food. “There’s something super accomplishing about cooking a meal using food you’ve grown over a fire,” he says.
A long time ago, fire is what started us on the path to civilization. Not only did fire improve the lives of early humans by giving us a means by which to stay warm and cook food, it also served as a community-building tool. People naturally gravitate towards a fire, and this caused us to gather together, so was a key component to developing spoken language. Fire serves as a magnetizing force, and it is a historical and elemental symbol of communal gathering. “Fire was this very primitive invention, now all of a sudden here we are, hundreds of thousands of years later, and we’re still doing it – we’ve just made it look a little bit cooler.”
I asked him who he thought this product was for. He admitted it was a smaller market, for people who are passionate about outdoor cooking and have the space. Most of all it’s for people who enjoy, “being the person who is kind of quarterbacking the meal, who has a gathering around them of people just being curious.” He also mentioned it’s for cottagers who love entertaining guests while outdoor cooking. “Whenever I cook on the Alchemy, I usually have a group of people around me asking questions and wanting to know more about what I am doing. It is a very social and inviting cooking experience.”
It is a very social and inviting cooking experience.
Basile’s culinary expertise was indeed pivotal to the Alchemy Grills equation, but his marketing and content chops complete the trifecta. Not only is the grill itself a pioneering feat, the digital marketing strategy for Alchemy Grills is also quite genius.
Aside from event marketing with ticketed dinners, where they are offering pre-sale to get the grills into the hands of interested consumers early, Basile is spreading awareness through his viral social content. And it’s spreading like wildfire.
Across his Instagram and TikTok accounts, Basile is leaning into the explosion of recipe tutorial content on socials to spread awareness for the grill through grilling ASMR videos that are earning hundreds of thousands of organic views.
In the coming months, he’ll be leaning into more basic 101 instructional videos to build a catalogue of product education content to serve as accompanying tutorials. If we look at marketing as a funnel, with the viral ASMR videos as the top of the funnel awareness content, the instructional content is the middle of the funnel. This is what makes the digital marketing strategy so clever, where the cooking medium is the message.
You can check out more from this live-fire cooking prodigy here.