Matthew Campbell's love of food began at an early age. He grew up in a family of "gourmet food enthusiasts and wine snobs," says Campbell. He celebrated childhood birthdays at Berkeley's beloved Chez Panisse; joined his parents in their home-kitchen whenever possible; and could easily tell the difference between a Burgundy and a Bordeaux by the time he entered kindergarten. Campbell liked to cook Mexican and French meals from scratch for his entire family. In college his focus shifted from the kitchen to the bar, where he found he could earn more money. He spent a year studying and serving pints of beer and glasses wine in Scotland, not yet focusing his full attention on the craft of cocktailing.
When Campbell, an Oakland, California native, returned to the bay area after graduating from college in Colorado, he managed a Pizzeria Uno in North Beach. After a brief stint at The Waterfront Restaurant in San Francisco, he went to work at Citron in the East Bay. He was promoted through the ranks and learned everything he could along the way. Campbell even cooked with the chefs on their days off, bridging that gap between bar and kitchen, and creating cocktails that were seasonal and complimented the chef's menus. Later, at Bar Kitty's (now closed) in Emeryville, he continued to sharpen and hone his mixing skills.
In 2007, Campbell joined the team at the just-opened Wood Tavern in Oakland, which proved to be an important turning point. During his four-year stint there, he created a dynamic, constantly evolving cocktail program. Before joining Comal, he also worked at Berkeley's Paisan, Bar Cesar in Oakland, and Michael Mina's Clock Bar in San Francisco. Scott Baird and Josh Harris from The Bon Vivants beverage consulting firm and owners of the ultra hot Trick Dog bar brought Campbell on board to helm the team when Comal opened in May 2012.
Campbell's favorite spirit has always been Oaxacan mezcal. So, when the opportunity arose to help create the agave-based cocktail menu at Comal, he jumped at the chance. In order to gain a full understanding of Oaxacan food and spirits, Campbell traveled to Mexico where he mixed cocktails with Oaxacans, harvested agave, and visited mezcal distilleries. He returned with a wealth of hands-on knowledge and a fresh tattoo of a skeleton with a bottle of mezcal in his boney hand.
Campbell approaches mixology from a chef's perspective, focusing on simplicity, flavor, and balance. He has a collection of cookbooks and uses fresh ingredients from farmers market to craft seasonal cocktails. Campbell also incorporates the many house-made tinctures, syrups, and bitters he creates at Comal. He likes infusing tequila with tarragon and other herbs and spices and keeps six or so mainstays on Comal's crowd pleasing cocktail menu.