My food is inspired by my surroundings
I want to bring the best experience that my skills and the Welsh coast, countryside and landscape can offer. A typical foraging day has three elements: hedgerow plants, shoreline plants and seaweeds, and fungi. You feel a massive connection with the environment. Everything we gather goes into an amazing multi-course dinner back at the campsite near Pembroke. It's like a chef's table, but a lot less formal. What I am doing here is creating a new style of food that emulates Wales. I really want to get the message out to the culinary world that Wales can have a world-class food destination with the emphasis on a strong sense of place: 'Wales on a plate'.
My grandparents were a massive influence on me
I learnt a lot from gathering wild plants with them from a very young age. They grew up in wartime, so everyone had to grow and gather food. Grandad had an allotment, and it's still in the family. We used to gather seaweed and berries throughout the season and then preserve them for winter. When you think about it, in the past we wouldn't have got our vitamin C from citrus fruits. It came from things like rosehips and wild berries. And shoreline edibles like purslane, scurvy grass and samphire are packed with vitamins.
My job changes with the seasons
Wild garlic comes up as early as January in the milder patches. In the spring I'll tap birch trees to make syrup. There are larch shoots and pine cones. From the end of April I'll find morels. Last year was very hot and dry so the main mushroom season didn't really start until August, but then it was fantastic. The woods were carpeted with ceps, horn of plenty, trompettes, charcoal burners, hedgehog fungi, autumn chanterelles. I couldn't stop finding them.
I quit haute cuisine for ecological reasons
From the age of 17 I worked in Michelin-starred places around Europe, and the wastage was crazy. Nothing in that world made sense to me. Businesses need to think not just about being financially stable, but also sustainable. In the grand scheme of things, for the future of the planet, how long can we go on taking all the time? I only use what I need, and there's no wastage. I only use produce from Wales, and the biggest percentage comes from Pembrokeshire, the county I love, live and work in.
People need to get back to nature
Part of my job is educating people about nature. I teach clients about littoral zones and tide heights, and what lives where. We look at the smaller ecosystems that they'd walk past and not really think about. Our whole ecosystem is being destroyed, so it's important to have an understanding of conservation for the sake of future generations. It's not just important for this part of the world, but for the future of the planet.
A sense of place is important too
I try and get as much local history and folklore in as I can. Some of the Mabinogion folktales are set in places where we go foraging, and then you have a long tradition of herbalism through the Physicians of Myddfai. And the place-names in Pembrokeshire are really interesting in themselves: they're a cross between Welsh, English, Flemish and Viking. I get customers from all over the world – Los Angeles, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia – so it's good to give them a sense of what Wales is about.
I've been asked to pick commercially, but it doesn't feel right
I only pick what I need, and no more. It feels wrong to go into a wood and strip it of everything you can find. Foragers tend to be careful about keeping their favourite patches a bit of a secret, and I'm always looking for new places. I do take local clients out, but I ask them not to go back and overpick. This is how I make a living, after all.
I cure and air-dry legs of Welsh lamb
It's an idea that I had when I was trying to find out more about Wales' food and cultural history. It's a similar principle to Serrano or Parma ham, but using lamb from local farms. We're currently testing it with Food Centre Wales, which is the Welsh Government's food technology centre. I'm also working with a local brewery to make beer that's flavoured with dried seaweed.
Everything that surrounds me inspires me
I'm dreaming of recipes all the time. Just looking around at the berries, the soil I walk on, the trees, the grasses, the flowers. The peace and tranquility allows me to study what's around me and create amazing dishes from what I can find. Everything we need surrounds us, but most people have forgotten that it is there. I look to the past to guide people to a better future.
Find out more about Matt on his website: www.fishingandforagingwales.co.uk
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Please take care! Wild food foraging should only be undertaken with a guided expert. Search for more foraging experiences across Wales.