At home with Chef Matt Dalton

Judith Harris Solomon
Special to The Detroit News

Even though he worked at a lot of restaurants from the time he was 15 years old, Matt Dalton, the chef/owner of Craft Work restaurant — in Indian Village in Detroit — never went to an actual cooking school.

Instead, after graduating from Romeo City High School, he briefly attended Oakland Community College part time to study mechanical engineering. "But I just couldn't picture myself as an engineer," he says. "I have a very busy brain, so sitting in front of a computer drawing auto parts just wasn't very stimulating for me."

And somewhere along the way, after stints ranging from busboy to server, line cook to sous chef, chef to supervisor at various local restaurants including Red Knapp's American Grill, P.F. Chang's, Mitchell's Fish Market, Fiddlehead's, Ronin and Chen Chow, Dalton says he realized there was more out there than just cooking and following recipes.

"I became blown away by the level of creativity and the artistic aspect out there in the culinary world," said Dalton, 39. "So I started spending a lot of time reading books and studying ingredients and food pairings. I'm very much self-taught, but also lucky to have worked with several chefs who helped my kitchen and cooking mentality."

"My whole philosophy is that I'm a businessman, a scientist and a psychologist. Those are the three main factors you need to be a chef," the Rochester resident said. "You need to be a scientist to understand the how and why of food. For example, the starch content for a potato grown in Idaho is higher in the winter and lower in the summer. Knowing that helps me cook consistently throughout the year. And as a businessman, you have to understand purchasing, food costs, all the boring side of running a business. You also need to be a psychologist in order to understand your guests and to meet their needs without even having a conversation with them."

Five pounds pork shoulder that is sliced into small pieces goes into the making of Dalton’s Breakfast Sausage.

Dalton created the French toast and buttermilk pancake recipes from scratch and says their tastiness is largely due to the fact that they utilize "the finest ingredients," such as King Arthur flour and Guernsey Farms Dairy milk. And he particularly likes this sausage recipe (which he also created from scratch) because "it has all fresh ingredients and a multi-layered flavor profile. Most breakfast sausages contain sage, garlic and ginger," he says. "I added the onions and fennel."

Pancakes on the grill.

Because Craft Work is a dinner-only restaurant, it allows Dalton to be home to make breakfast several days a week for his family, which includes his wife, Nicole, and their two children; Freya, 5, and Bryson, 3.

"Family time is very important to me," he says.

Adds Dalton: "One of the things I love about cooking is that it's a nonstop education, even though I've been doing it for 19 years. Some chefs say the knife is the most important tool in the kitchen, but I disagree. I think it's the brain."

Pork shoulder breakfast patty.

Breakfast Sausage

5 pounds pork shoulder (cut into small pieces)

2 heads fresh garlic, peeled

2 ounces red wine

2 ounces vegetable oil

1 bulb Spanish onion, julienned

1 bulb fennel, shaved thin

1 small finger of ginger root, minced

1 teaspoon black peppercorn, toasted

1 teaspoon coriander, toasted

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Clean pork shoulder by removing most of the fat and the artery. (I prefer to keep about 10 percent of the fat because it helps retain moisture). In a pan, caramelize the garlic in the vegetable oil. Remove from pan and set aside.

Caramelize onion in small amount of oil. Once the onion has a good amount of color, deglaze with balsamic vinegar and reduce until it has a syrup-like consistency. Then let cool in fridge.

Caramelize fennel in a small amount of oil. Once the fennel has a good amount of color, deglaze with red wine and reduce until it has a syrup-like consistency. Then let cool in fridge.

Toast peppercorn and coriander in a dry pan over med low heat and allow to cool at room temp. Peel and mince the ginger. In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients and place in freezer until firm, but not frozen (this will help preserve the fat while grinding). Start feeding the hopper of a Mixmaster grinder and grind at medium speed. (see note.)

Once the mixture has been ground, let rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Portion sausage mixture into 2 ounce patties and pan sear on medium heat until browned. Turn patties and finish cooking in a 300 degree oven 7 to 10 minutes.

(Slow cooking the sausage is important due to the amount of sugars. The sugars will burn if the mix is cooked too fast. Take your time. You can freeze any unused sausage mixture.)

Makes 40 servings.

Note: If you don't have a Mixmaster grinder, you can hand-chop everything super fine.

Per serving: 103 calories; 6 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 52 percent calories from fat); 1 g carbohydrates; 0 g sugar; 39 mg cholesterol; 183 mg sodium; 11 g protein; 0 g fiber.

Owner/Chef Matt Dalton holds a plate of pancakes, French toast and sausage that he doesn’t get to cook at his Detroit restaurant.

French Toast Custard Batter

2 ounces light brown sugar

6 whole eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla paste (can be found at most specialty grocery stores)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 of a pod of fresh nutmeg grated using a microplane (pre-ground nutmeg will suffice, but I prefer to use fresh)

1 pint half and half

1 hard pinch kosher salt

14 slices challah bread (see note)

Cream brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg until smooth. Add half-and-half and salt.

Soak the challah until saturated and cook on a flat skillet or griddle at 325 degrees until brown on both sides and firm to the touch.

Note: The custard should taste like eggnog. I prefer to use challah, but any bread will do.

Per serving: 208 calories; 8 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 35 percent calories from fat); 25 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 124 mg cholesterol; 256 mg sodium; 8 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Buttermilk Pancakes

7 ounces King Arthur cake flour

8 ounces King Arthur all-purpose flour

2 3/4 teaspoons baking soda

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

5 ounces granulated sugar

3 whole eggs

5 ounces buttermilk (I prefer Guernsey Farms)

10 ounces whole milk (I prefer Guernsey Farms)

2 ounces vegetable oil or clear butter

1 1/2 ounce vanilla paste

Sift all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine all wet ingredients until batter is mixed. Spoon batter on a flat, well-oiled surface and cook at 350 degrees until golden brown and firm to the touch.

Serve with a pat of butter on each piece and real maple syrup

Note: Do not over mix the batter, small flour balls in it are OK. I find this batter is best if prepared the night before, because it allows the flour to bloom and the gluten to relax, making for a lighter pancake. Makes 14 pancakes.


Add fresh blueberries, raspberries, raspberry puree or 1ounce melted peanut butter and banana chips, M&M's or mini marshmallows.

Per serving: 225 calories; 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat; 24 percent calories from fat); 36 g carbohydrates; 12 g sugar; 49 mg cholesterol; 354 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 2 g fiber.