A rich life is suddenly swept away
Gary Mathias, noted chef at Newport restaurant, dies doing what he loved: Fishing
By DONITA NAYLOR JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
Gary Mathias, a chef at Newport’s Brick Alley Pub, loved to fish, and some mornings he would fry up his catch, maybe “a big, huge striped bass,” and everyone in the kitchen “would have at it …,” said Matthew Plumb, son of the pub’s founders.
“We’d eat them right here, before we opened,” Plumb said. The fish was, “like, an hour old.”
Plumb spoke Wednesday afternoon as he and the restaurant staff coped with the news that Mathias, 48, of Ports-mouth, died Wednesday morning doing what he loved.
At around 4 a.m., Middletown police got a 911 call about a fisherman who had been swept off the rocks at Sachuest Point. Middletown police Sgt. Mark Minnella tried to swim out with a lifeline, the department’s news release said, but rough surf prevented him from reaching Mathias.
A Middletown Fire Department boat reached the floating but unresponsive man and brought him to the Third Beach boat ramp, where Newport Rescue per- sonnel started cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He was taken to Newport Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Ralph and Pat Plumb founded the Newport pub in 1980, and Mathias started in 1989, when Matthew Plumb was still a child.
“He taught me a lot,” said Plumb, now in his 30s. “When I was learning all the different areas of the restaurant, I spent a lot of time following him around, listening to him. Now, it’s more like an exchange of ideas.”
Plumb described Mathias as a health-conscious, physically fit man who, in the winter, would go to the gym before 6 a.m.
“If it wasn’t something like this,” Plumb said, “he’s the kind of guy who would live to about 95.”
“There hasn’t been a dry eye,” said Kim Napolitano, the pub’s waitstaff manager and a guidance counselor at Durfee High School in Fall River. “It’s a very big emotional loss for us.”
She said her Facebook page “has been flooded with messages” from people around the country who worked with Mathias at some point in their careers. And purveyors have been calling with condolences.
“We’ve got a big family down here,” said Plumb, “Once you’re part of the family, whether you’ve been in six months or 25 years, it’s the same.”
“Everybody did a good job of pulling together today and helping each other out,” he said.
Mathias supervised a kitchen staff of about 25, did most of the food ordering and quality control, and collaborated with the elder Plumb on what the restaurant served, Napolitano said. He helped create almost every item on the menu.
Mathias was one of three chefs featured on this week’s cover of the Newport Mercury, for a story on New-port Restaurant Week, which begins Friday. He died before he could see the free weekly all over town. It came out Wednesday morning.
He was included in the “Taste of Newport” cookbook, published in 2008, with the recipe for Brick Alley Crabcakes, and in 2006, the 50th anniversary issue of Bon Appetit magazine reprinted his recipe for Brick Alley’s Clams Portuguese as one of only 25 recipes that defined their decades.
In 2006, the Journal featured Mathias in Chef’s Secret and printed the clam recipe and one for Portuguese Cod, both of which call for chourico, a sausage from Mathias’ Portuguese heritage.
Mathias grew up on a farm in Portsmouth, went to the University of Rhode Island and earned his master’s degree in English, Plumb said.
If he wasn’t working or spending time with his daughter, 16, or his girlfriend, Plumb said, he would be fishing, and the rocks off Sachuest Point Wildlife Refuge “was one of his favorite spots.”
“He was doing something he really loved,” Napolitano said. “It was his passion.” [email protected]