Social Distancing in Style with Matt Hranek

Last week we had the chance to catch up over the phone with Matt Hranek from his farm in Upstate New York. For those of you who don’t know Matt, he’s an author, outdoorsman, collector, and the man behind The WM Brown Magazine Project. We chatted about life in quarantine and how he and his family are sticking to their traditions to make the most of it.

It’s March 2020 and from here on out for the rest of forever, we’ll all remember this strange time period of social distancing and quarantine thanks to the COVID-19 crisis. Tell us. Where are you now? How have you been handling this moment of extreme isolation?
So I’m currently in Sullivan County on this property we bought almost 20 years ago. And luckily, the whole point of this place is about escape. So philosophically, the property that we developed up here, called William Brown Farm, is in protest to the frantic and busy lives we have in New York City. It’s a refuge. So in a way, we’ve always kind of been prepared for a crisis like this. 

I’m also a bit of an armchair doomsday prepper. So we’ve kept it stocked with good food, terrific booze, great wine, and every culinary tool. I actually love being isolated up here, because the whole point of being here is its remoteness and proximity to nature. That’s why we built it.

On Instagram you’ve shared some good alternatives for stocking up at the local grocery store after all the basics have been pillaged. How’d you navigate the small-town grocery run?
I love a supermarket challenge and when the panic buying started at our little grocery store up here, it was really depressing. Because there was incredible stuff left behind. All the best dried legumes, all the killer cured meats, and amazing tins of fish. All the stuff that’s nutritious, makes great meals and lasts a long time. And people were saying, oh there’s nothing there. And there was actually amazing stuff there.

You have also been posting pretty regularly during this time period, everything from cooking how-tos to crooning. What’s prompted you to take this particular route in creating content?
We have a massive cookbook collection that we’ve been gathering over the years up here. We’ve always just pulled a recipe off the shelf and looked at what’s inspiring us today in terms of the weather and what’s in our fridge and pantry. So this period of quarantine has been a kind of hyper format of what we’ve always done. The good news is that for me, it’s such great therapy.

It was my wife Yolanda’s idea for me to start posting and putting this stuff out there. And every meal that we’re making is designed so you don’t need exact measurements of ingredients. I feel that a lot of this is just meant to inspire people to interpret what they have and showing folks that nothing needs to go to waste. Scraps become soup, bones become broth. And yes, after dinner, I occasionally may attempt my best Sinatra impression. 

What’s been your favorite dish you’ve cooked so far while in quarantine?
Pappa al pomodoro, a Tuscan bread soup (see image gallery above for the visual recipe)

What’s been the favorite tune you’ve crooned?
“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Frank Sinatra

Everyone seems to be posting about living in their favorite sweatpants throughout this crisis, yet it seems like every evening you and your family have decided to get decked out in cocktail attire instead. Can you tell us about this choice and how it’s affected your overall attitude and vibe?
I love tailored suits and we’ve always had this tradition up here of, on occasion, dressing for dinner. It’s not like: we’re in the country so we need to put our holey jeans on… we like to dress for cocktails when we spend time here in the summer and I even keep a tuxedo up here. It’s just fun. So I consciously thought, “Okay, how do we elevate this crazy experience of quarantine, without making light of the seriousness of the situation? Let’s just do what we normally do. Let’s dress for dinner.”   

Being out on your land, what outdoor activities have you been doing to pass the time?
This is a 130-acre farm — we have lots of trails and amazing old fire roads and logging roads. So we’ve been exploring all these roads and trails, going further than we’ve gone in years. It’s just magical. The dogs come along and there’s just mounds of wildlife.

You recently posted some of your thoughts on your ultimate bug-out bag. Can you talk us through what you think folks should consider when packing for the apocalypse?
Well again, in my kind of armchair doomsday prepper mode, just think: How do you make fire? How do you stay warm? How do you have clean water? But I reached out to a bunch of friends to post their essentials and guess what the most common item was? Chocolate. 

Here at Vanish, we’re massive fans of overlanding. Can you tell us a bit about the Land Rover project you just completed with Brooklyn Coachworks?
So that vehicle came from Central America with a very rare matching trailer. I met Daniel Marcello at Brooklyn Coachworks through Alloy+Grit. Turns out we came from the same hometown and even went to the same university and we saw eye-to-eye on a lot of things. So we decided to turn this Series 2A Rover into a WM Brown Edition. It’s up for sale now. It’s 100% original, like right down to the correct galvanized hinges on the doors. Hopefully someone who’s really passionate about early Rovers will find it.

Thanks so much for speaking with us, Matt. Any final thoughts?
Just that, yes… this is certainly a crazy time, but Yolanda and I are both continuing to plug away at the next issues of our magazines. And despite all the concerning news of this crisis, I still find it to be a very inspiring time.