20 Questions: From the kitchen to the community

Julia Hopkins/NNY Business
Matt Hudson, Executive Chef of the Hilton Garden Inn, poses for a portrait in front of his kitchen in Watertown.

Matthew Hudson is a prime example of someone who left to further their education, worked out of state but soon returned to bring his talents back to the north country. This past 20 Under 40 recipient sat down with NNY Business to talk about the award, his career and how the Hilton Garden Inn supports the community. 

NNYB: How did you become interested in the culinary arts?  

HUDSON: I started when I was 14, washing dishes. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep doing that, but after seeing the food that was coming out and the atmosphere in the kitchen and what it was like, I kind of just went with it and just kind of stuck with it.  

NNYB: Where did you attend school? And what was the best lesson you learned there that you still apply today?  

HUDSON: I went to college at Paul Smiths. One of the biggest things I learned there, it’s hard to say, I guess was watch your own back. I had a professor named Shakes. He was always saying that you have to cover yourself; you got to cover your department, your area, your duties, no matter why that has to be priority. And honestly, he said that every day of the class when he walked in, “cover yourself”. And in the end, it wasn’t that you let people suffer; you don’t you you support people around you. But in the end you have to take care of your responsibilities, your duties.  

NNYB: When did you get your start in the culinary profession?  

HUDSON: When I was working my mother called me on my birthday at 14 and asked me if I wanted to wash dishes and I told her “No.” She then told me that I started five and I jumped in and that’s where I got my start in the restaurant.  

NNYB: Where did you get your start out of college?  

HUDSON: Out of college, I went to Maryland. I went to Kent Manner Inn which was right on the eastern shore, a beautiful wedding facility. It was just gorgeous. We did extremely high end weddings, big events, Christmases and Thanksgivings, and Easters and clientele, that was a lot different than what I’m used to. You know, a lot of big money, a lot of ritzy celebrities, things like that. That was probably where I kind of got it, my next opportunity. Before that I was just working at a small diner and went to college and then I got a great opportunity.  

NNYB: As a north country native returning from culinary school from the Adirondacks, how did you decide to come back here? Following your experience down in Maryland, when did you decide to come back to the north country?  

HUDSON: Growing up here, you don’t appreciate the family values, the people around you, the community that you have. You get to a new place, the city life, I would say and, you know, there’s just not that kind of neighborly love and support. Here, it doesn’t have to be family; I have as many friends that have acquaintances that I could call here. I think the atmosphere here, the neighborly love, is a lot better than, than anywhere I’ve lived.   

NNYB: Was it an easy decision to come home?   

HUDSON: No. The camaraderie is really nice, the love is really nice; but for economic reasons, living in that atmosphere was a little bit better, there were more opportunities. There was a little bit more money flowing. So yes, it was a hard decision to give that up and to come home.   

NNYB: How did you develop your relationship with the Hilton Garden Inn? And how many years have you been here?  

HUDSON: I’ve been here for eight years. I was called during construction; the construction had started when I was initially approached. I was working at the lyric coffee house at the time and I interviewed for the job. It was me and one other guy and the other guy, I’m not gonna lie, I thought I had he a better resume. I knew who he was. So I didn’t think I was going to get the job, but then they offered it to me and I graciously accepted of course, and honestly, I foresee being here a long time. So the owners are wonderful people and they’ve been treating people well, they treat staff well, take care of the locals. You can’t really ask for much more.  

NNYB: What would you say the most rewarding aspect of being able to have a job at home with your family and with the family you built here at the Hilton?  

HUDSON: I feel that since I’ve been here that I’ve made a difference to more people than I would have an opportunity to do anywhere else. I do a lot of activities with the BOCES programs and lectures and little training things and you know, I try to get out in the community a lot. So I think there’s a lot of people out there that I’ve, I don’t want to say touched because in the end, I’ve just kind of given my opinions and examples of what I have been able to accomplish. But I think that some people really do take what I say, you know, to heart; that I could help someone turn it into a career path. That is the most rewarding part.   

NNYB: That leads me into my very next question. How has working at the Hilton Garden Inn shaped your leadership abilities?  

HUDSON: Oh, greatly. Again, all the other places I worked were more “mom and pop” establishments and even the Manor was not as formal as it is at the Hilton. I think it sets  lot of structure; having structure in life and having a system in place is really nice. It makes leadership a lot easier when you have other leaders that you are working with that are doing the same great job.  

NNYB: In 2018, you are awarded the 20 Under 40 Award by NNY Business magazine. How did this make you feel about your professional path as a head chef?  

HUDSON: It definitely made me feel like I made the right decision in what I did. Kind of validated that what I do is good enough; I’m good enough at what I do to be a leader of the community. And that I do enough outside of work to try to support and help others to be nominated in general.   

NNYB: Do you feel that the 20 Under 40 Award helps someone further their career path after receiving the award? 

HUDSON: I would definitely say so. Personally, as an example, I don’t update my resume very often, because I’m very satisfied in my career, but I do update it every once in a while just to make sure its current. And that was one that I put on as my top accolades. I have a lot of certifications and a lot of other awards and things that I’ve been given, but I think to be recognized amongst your peers and in the way we were was great.   

NNYB: Were you surprised by winning the award?   

HUDSON: Yes, I was very surprised. It’s one of those things you don’t really know about yourself, so to have others recognize you and nominate you was a good feeling. 

NNYB: Why do you think the 20 Under 40 Award is important to have in the north country?  

HUDSON: I think it’s good to recognize the leaders of our future. These are young people, you know, I say young under 40, but you know, that’s still young. And I think it’s important that we recognize them so that they continue on their path towards leadership and they continue their growth.   

NNYB: The Hilton Garden Inn has been our leading sponsor and venue for the 20 Under 40 Awards now in its ninth year. Why does the Hilton feel that it is important to continue to support this program?  

HUDSON: It’s all about community again, Mr. Donegan is such a great person. We do so many events for the community that are at cost event or a little less than what we would ask for a formal wedding event. Back to my last question about recognizing the leaders. It’s a great community action, but also, as a leader in the industry, you could potentially be booking parties, you could be potentially recommending other people to our hotel. In the end, we do a lot of things for charity, for good. But we always want to get our name out as someone that cares about community and I think supporting the leaders is is a great way to do that.   

NNYB: Do you feel that young leadership is acknowledged enough in the north country and why?  

HUDSON: No, definitely not. I think young people are doing astonishing things here in the north country and are our future for not only ourselves, but our children’s. 

NNYB: How does the Hilton Garden Inn recognize leadership within the company? 

HUDSON: Within the company, we do a lot of promoting within; we try not to hire for management positions, unless absolutely necessary. We try to do a great leadership program. We do a lot of training, we do cross training, we try to promote within the company. So someone who started washing dishes doesn’t mean that you can’t be a great maintenance guy, you can’t be a great server, trying to find dual roles for people. 

~This interview was conducted by Holly Boname. It has been edited for length and clarity to fit this space.