Matt Groark
Grilling up some reality TV perfection
By Jayne Jacova Feld

He may be known to his social media followers as The Meat Teacher, but there is always more to Matt Groark’s posts than advice on perfecting pulled pork or slow cooking brisket. Sure, you’ll see lots of mouth-watering close-ups of sizzling meats and you can save useful grilling tips. You’ll also get a slice of Groark family life in Medford Lakes or catch him pondering mindfulness while flipping a filet.

“I’m a teacher, a dad and a husband who grills at my home,” says Groark, who teaches phys ed and health at Washington Township High School. “My wife Kristin can be heard in the background. My kids are in and out of the videos, which I still film on my own and edit on my phone. It’s not fancy at all, but I think that’s a big part of why I gained my following.” 

As a contestant on the 2nd season of Gordon Ramsay’s “Next Level Chef” on FOX, Groark and 17 other rising chefs – some culinary-trained, some home cooks – competed for the $250,0000 prize, a 1-year mentorship from Ramsay and co-chefs Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais, as well as the title of Next Level Chef. Among the contestants considered “social media chefs,” Groark was by far the most social, with 3.3 million TikTok followers, 650,000 on YouTube and 128,000 on Instagram. The attention that landed him on the show is also what helped him grow Groark Boys BBQ, a business he started 5 years ago with the intent of supplementing his teaching salary. As it evolved into a vehicle to spread joy, raise funds and feed first responders at the height of the pandemic, his following exploded. National attention soon followed, including an appearance on “Good Morning America” in 2020.  

Despite envious engagement stats and his obvious comfort level being filmed, Groark says he was reluctant to compete on the show. Among his initial concerns, he says, the show would take him to London for a month starting in mid-August and into the crucial first few weeks of school. But there were other reasons.

“I was dealing with a whole lot of self doubt and some insecurities of being just a meat guy,” he says. “Everything I know and have learned has been done in my backyard, in my kitchen and on social media. I doubted my skills so much that I had my good friend and chef extraordinaire from “MasterChef” season 10, Noah Sims, fly out to my house and teach me a bunch of tricks of the trade. It was literally a 4-day crash course.”

Although taking an unpaid leave from teaching and facing his fears weighed heavily, Groark can now say with certainty that it was a risk worth taking – transformational really. 

“On set was crazy,” he says. “We were there from 7:30  am until 9:30 pm for challenges or doing interviews. There was a lot involved, and it was really cool to watch behind-the-scenes how a show is run and produced. Being able to interact the way we did with the chefs was once-in-a-lifetime type stuff.”

Groark went into it with realistic expectations. “I wasn’t thinking I was going to win this. I just didn’t want to go home first,” he says, explaining how that would have played into his insecurities.

In the debut Next Level Chef season, the first contestant eliminated was Gary Marandola, a barbecue guy who was labeled as a social media chef like Groark. “I know him really well,” he adds. “My goal was to at least beat Gary.”

By that measure (and even more standard ones), his time on the show was a huge success. Groark started strong – winning the best dish for his team – and he made it to episode 7 before being knocked off.  

Matt Groark competed in the 2nd season of “Next Level Chef”

“I nailed it,” he says of the steakhouse-style veal chop he prepared in the allotted 45-minute time span. “It was a pretty big moment for me. I was able to convince myself that I belonged there and could go toe to toe with professional chefs.”

In fact, after tasting Groark’s dish, Ramsay proclaimed: “Whoever cooked this knows how to nail meat.” 

Groark’s eliminating moment, an episode entitled “Here Fishy Fishy,” was just about an opposite experience from his debut.

“It was easily the most difficult day I had,” he says. “I didn’t cook anything very well. But it was probably the most fun I had during filming.”

From the start, when he butchered (not in a good way) a cod he was charged with dividing up for his entire team to dropping a pan of pancetta, things went from bad to worse. Ramsay, so complimentary in the first episode, said that his pan-fried cod filet with elderberry was “confusing.”

“It was like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger,” Groark says. “And at the end of it, I got sent home. But I leaned into it and chose to take it as a life lesson that sometimes things fall off the rails and you have to lean in to go where it takes you. It was a heck of a way to go out. I don’t think I would have written it any differently.”

After the filming wrapped, Groark was immediately back to his real life: running gym classes, filming himself at home and playing tailgate master before Eagles games – which is how he developed his skills on the grill in the first place. 

Due to the show’s terms, Groark had to keep his reality-TV show experiences to himself until Next Level’s premiere, which happened to be scheduled to start immediately after Super Bowl LVII. So even after the Eagles disappointing performance in February, Groark and his fans had Next Level’s premiere to blunt their dismay. 

And although Groark didn’t get the title – it went to Tucker Ricchio, a professional chef from San Francisco – the exposure opened the doors to some next-level opportunities. This includes a stint this summer at a Food & Wine festival to do Groark Boys barbecue demonstrations. He and Kristin, a professional photographer, are also working on a cookbook through HarperCollins that is expected to publish sometime this year. And of course Groark is still regularly posting the content that got him to this next level in the first place.

“One of the biggest things I learned doing the show with so many professional chefs is that I can do much more than just barbecue,” he says. “I am more than just the meat guy.”   

July 2023
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