Sunday, April 23, 2023

Farewell and Thanks for All the ChocoPots:

This post is tribute, invite, and recipe, in that order.

On Tuesday night we got a phone call with some news I hoped to never hear. Our friend Jeff Mathews, better known to some as adorkandhispork, had passed away.


I met Jeff in 2009, at a Cincinnati Imports happy hour. We had just started Cincinnati Nomerati earlier that year, and I remember being thrilled to meet people whose words I had been reading for months and I looked up to as experienced bloggers.

Jeff and Liz at Cincy Imports

Jeff was a great conversationalist, and we enjoyed talking about a variety of random things. David joined us for the next meet up, at Sake Bomb. Shortly after that, I got on Twitter and joined the club of bloggers and foodies in the city. We’d schedule “Tweetups” at local restaurants, spend Sunday afternoons at Neons drinking mimosas that had no business being as strong as they were, and spent many evenings at Jeff’s tiny apartment on Hosea avenue in Clifton.

Jeff's Den

About Jeff’s apartment – I was always impressed at the amount of people he managed to squeeze into it. From what I gather, the rent was impressively cheap and there was laundry in the basement (Jeff would occasionally reference spats with the “cat lady” on a floor below who would try to pilfer his detergent), but it consisted of a small den, a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen, usually with a pile of dishes in the sink that Jeff was mustering up the willpower to do and would get to eventually.

You’d think with the apartment being compact, Jeff would keep the place pretty tidy, but it wasn’t in his nature. Jeff was a gloriously enthusiastic, exuberant human being and as such, was above those details. His bathroom was notorious - and left you wondering exactly how the toilet’s enamel got chipped that way. One time towards the beginning of a gathering, someone dropped food on the floor. “Five second rule!” they exclaimed, going to retrieve it. Jeff’s quiet response stopped them in their tracks: a slightly pained look and deadpan “Not here.” He once hired a housekeeper, and after spending the morning cleaning out his fridge and making no other progress, she summarily quit, totally exhausted and questioning her career choices.

Jeff's kitchen

That’s not to say his food prep wasn’t safe – we never got sick from anything we enjoyed at his place – but it was NOT without its risks. Case in point: The Blumenburgers. Jeff was a fan of recipes both elaborate and simple. We were invited out on the illustrious occasion at his place for the fussiest burger recipe I have ever seen. Jeff prepped and saved money for weeks for the elaborate blend of beef cuts and was justifiably proud of his creation. There was just one elephant in the room at the party: Jeff liked his burgers rare. Like really rare. I remember desperately locking eyes with another guest across the table as she mirrored my attempt to eat nonchalantly around the burger's edge avoiding the cool and completely raw center. At the end of the party, David and I were saying our goodbyes and a tipsy-but-happy Jeff was holding a plate of the remaining fancy burger patties. His arm wobbled and they all leaped onto the floor with a slapping sound I’ll never forget. The look on Jeff’s face was one of nonplussed resignation, because of course this would happen to these burgers. David and I quickly left, and never asked what became of the patties, lying in a little Blumenburger heap on the scuffed linoleum.

Jeff was my Excel and food phone-a-friend, and an extensive pen pal in the digital age. He encouraged me to chase after my first job in advertising, even though he made what we called the “Splenda face” (he loathed artificial sweeteners of all kinds) at some of the work I ended up doing for clients. He never let me live it down that I made tiramisu with Twinkies, and I responded in kind by what he deemed a hilarious impression of him ordering a margarita. “OK, so I’d like a margarita…” He’d begin, launching into an elaborate, overly courteous explanation of his desired beverage, down to the specific ingredients and quantities.

Later, Jeff’s considerable storytelling skills graduated him from ranks of Cincinnati Bloggers to become a writer for Cincinnati Magazine. Despite the come up, he still stubbornly took the bus to his assignments with what he called his “tea bladder” – sweet tea contained in a precariously sealed ziploc bag – because, well, it was Jeff. He took that writing job incredibly seriously, and I was always impressed at how he framed his experiences.

One of these assignments was at the now defunct Jo An which was absolutely, ridiculously dreadful. I remember Jeff doggedly trying to get a description from the server about what types of pickles were on the plate so he could write about it accurately. She struggled with English, and her earnest response was to point at each item and repeat “eeees peeeeeeckle.” David and I still giggle about it to this day. The experience was a non-stop, excruciating comedy of errors, where every dish’s fate was either to come out 40 minutes late or – after the same amount of time – to be canceled, telling us that they were in fact out of some key ingredient. We started making jokes to ease the frustration until we became so delirious with the absurdity that we had to beg for our check and make our exit. Once the fresh air hit us outside, we all had a distinct feeling like being freed from an elevator that we had been trapped in for three hours.

Occasionally I would get a letter from Jeff, but more often I would receive an email, detailing out concepts in a dizzying display that had me doing abstract detective work to keep it all straight and sort out all the people and places, a mental forensics with push pins and strings. Jeff loved connecting people and was always strategic in who he put in that tiny apartment. I doubt I’m the only one who owes him a debt of this kind – I’ve met so many of my current friends because of his gregarious nature. His usual modus operandi  for such invites was sending out emails with everyone BCC’d, reassuring us that despite the blind copy, he “loved us all as individuals and look forward to talking to you all very soon.

One of those events was the not-quite-annual “Ice Cream in a Bag” where you would make ice cream from scratch using an ingenious double-ziploc-bag-and-duct-tape mechanism. It was always a raucous afternoon, and you’d finish with salt all over your aching arms, enjoying the fruits of your laborious shaking, sitting at picnic tables under the Ault Park’s shady trees. It was delightfully imperfect and messy with a delicious outcome, to be expected with anything that involved Jeff. Not to bury the lede here, but this is an open invite to anyone who wants to join us and celebrate at Ault Park on May 2nd at 6:30. Here’s a link to the sign up sheet

Jeff was wonderfully unconventional yet distinguished, and for someone who could be so persnickety about recipes, he embraced the humble as well. That attitude carried over towards his friends to our benefit; while he was observant and perceptive, he often purposefully turned a blind eye to the negative things about people. He was admittedly frugal but generous with the things that really mattered. It still hasn’t sunk in that after 14 years and over 300 emails and even more random texts and Instagram DMs, I won’t be getting another teasing remark about marketing buzzspeak, toast points, or a cryptic note that mentions Tanya Harding (IYKYK).

One of Jeff’s longstanding recipes he loved making personally and for others was chocopots – which we invite you to make and post a picture (hashtag #adorkandhispork). I’m sure Jeff would make the Splenda face at the hashtag, but for his friends across the country that can’t make it on May 2nd, consider this another way to show how much he meant to all of us, even if life has taken you far from Cincinnati or you can’t make it on Tuesday.



Until we meet again my friend. We won’t forget you.


Jeff ... somewhere tasty

Jeff B&W Portrait

Jeff's first watercolor