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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Dec. 28, 2022

Rounding out the MyCG Holiday Menu

By Zach Shapiro, MyCG Writer

No great meal is complete without dessert! Or, as Estelle Costanza of “Seinfeld” put it, “You’re supposed to serve cake after a meal!” To round out the 2022 MyCG Holiday Menu, we have a fantastic dessert recipe from Chief Petty Officer Matt Shaw.

When it comes to culinary specialists (CSs) and chefs in the Coast Guard and beyond, Shaw is tough to beat. He’s won the 2022 American Culinary Foundation’s National Pastry Chef of the Year Award, topping all-star civilian and military chefs from across the country. Shaw also captained the Coast Guard Culinary Team, which won three gold medals and a bronze medal at the 2022 American Culinary Foundation’s Joint Culinary Training Exercise competition in March. 

Tell us about your background. How and why did you become a culinary specialist?

I grew up in a small South Texas town between San Antonio and Corpus Christi. My mother instilled a love of cooking in me when I was very young. Baking and pastry were her specialties which she passed on to me. I grew up at her side in the kitchen learning the art of dough and pastry making.

At 22 years old I decided to make cooking a career, so I applied and was accepted to Culinary Institute LeNotre, a French culinary school in Houston. After graduation, my mother invested in me and together we opened a quaint café that served homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, and an assortment of pastries along with our family’s traditional Czech kolaches. We were successful but after three years, we decided to pursue other endeavors. I think we were both just exhausted. 

A Coast Guard recruiting office was located across from my café, so one day I walked in to see what they could offer. The recruiter advised me not to go culinary specialist (CS) but instead boastwain’s mate (BM)! So, there I was, a true culinarian serving as a BM. I knew I had made the wrong rating choice, as inevitably, I found myself in the galley alongside the CS at every unit I was stationed at. After my six-year enlistment was up, I returned to that same French culinary school and earned another degree. I graduated Magna Cum Laude and was awarded an internship in Paris. I spent six challenging, yet incredible months working at a Michelin Star restaurant in the heart of Paris. It was an unforgettable experience. At the conclusion of my internship, I returned to the US and after a few months decided to re-enlist with the Coast Guard, this time as a CS! It has been a wonderful 17-year career that has been filled with many cherished opportunities.       

Here's what you’ll need to make Shaw’s Brownie Toffee Bars:

  • For the crust:
    • ¾ cup butter softened
    • ¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
    • 1 egg yolk
    • ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • For the filling:
    • 1 package fudge brownie mix
    • 1 egg
    • 1/3 cup water
    • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • For the topping:
    • 1 package (12 ounces) milk chocolate chips, melted
    • ¾ cup finely chopped pistachio (or any nut, crushed peppermint, mini marshmallows of choice)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 x 12 x 1-inch baking sheet pan. To make the crust, combine softened butter, brown sugar, egg yolk and vanilla extract. Shift in flour and mix until dough forms. Spread in the pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

For the filling, mix brownie mix with egg, water, and vegetable oil until smooth consistence. Spread over hot crust. Bake for 15 minutes or until surface appears to be set. Cool for 45 minutes.

For the topping, spread the melted chocolate on top of the brownie layer. Garnish with finely chopped pistachio or any nut of choice. You may also like to try crushed peppermint candy during the holidays.

Let brownies cool completely and the cut into squares. Enjoy! 

What is the story behind your recipe? Why did you choose it?

I chose the Brownie Toffee Bars because they were always a holiday staple and favorite in our family.  There hasn’t been a Christmas without them. It’s also a versatile cookie/bar. You can dress them up with nuts or crushed candies like peppermint or leave them just as they are.  

Did you ever cook this recipe on a cutter or elsewhere in the field? 

I have baked them at every unit where I’ve been stationed! While on the Cutter Steadfast, the magazine Taste of Home even selected them to be featured on their holiday cover! They are truly a star dessert!

Who is your favorite chef? 

Julia Child comes to mind as my favorite chef. She was a true trailblazer. I live by her motto: “Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun.”
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