Meet the Chef: Matt Powell

Matt Powell is a chef, forager and saltwater bass lure angling guide. Fishing and Foraging Wales and Welsh Bass Guide was created to bring all of his passions together; bass lure angling, hunting for wild edibles and food.

Matt was born in Wales, but spent many years working outside his beloved country in the best culinary establishments he could. He moved back to Wales to create something unique and culturally important to Wales for now and for the future.

At this year’s Abergavenny Food Festival he is hosting a Foraged Gin walk with Danny Walker from Psychopomp gin, as well as teaming up with Wright’s Emporium from Llanarthney to cook A Taste of Land and Sea: A Welsh Sunday Feast.

How does a chef become a chef/forager?

I was lucky to spend a lot of time outdoors with my grandparents. I grew up in rural Wales so when we were kids we were always running around in the outdoors. I would shoot small game, collect berries, catch fish in my local rivers and from the sea. I was lucky to have a great childhood from that aspect. It’s always been part of who I am. It has always been there.

What brought you back to Wales after travelling and cooking round the world?

Wales is a wonderful place and it’s full of mystery and wonder to me. I have always had a passion for the country I am from and to come back and to try and create something different and something that is true to the parts of the places I now work in was the goal.

I am trying to create and emulate a new style of food for this wonderful place. Something I hope will get noticed more not just for me but for Wales to stand out in the culinary world.

You only use Welsh produce when you cook – tell us about your favourite ingredients and where to find them?

There’s so many great ingredients here in Wales.

From a mainstay point of view, we are really spoilt for choice and this is only going to get better. There’s so many great producers out here whether they are farming beef or lamb (Carn Edward in North Pembrokeshire and Nash farm in South Pembrokeshire) or the really great cheese suppliers in Pembrokeshire and beyond. There’s so many to list and I am grateful to anyone who supplies me or whose produce I use.

Take Danny Curtis at DASH shellfish and Lobster and Mor in Little Haven. Danny works so hard not just to supply the best lobsters and crabs, but he even goes out to sea and catches them himself too. Food heroes like this make my job easier by supplying me with the best lobsters in the world.

It’s not just the larger suppliers though, there are brilliant small scale ingredients available from the likes of Springfields in Little Haven too.

From a foraging point of view there’s so much to list: from humble seaweeds to the wild mushrooms I pick all around Wales, from morels in late spring and early summer to chanterelles and porcini in late Summer to late Autumn. It’s all here. There’s a lot more to discover as well. Each corner I turn seems like a gift and a massive step forward.

What is your favourite time of year and place for foraging?

The woodlands of Wales from late July to late November.

What makes the Pembrokeshire landscape so perfect to base yourself there?

Pembrokeshire has everything. From a bass fishing point of view to getting under the water (snorkelling) to look at more things to use and to inspire me.

Although there’s a plethora of good base ingredients to use here there’s also the inspiration too. Take my ‘stack rocks’ dish – a dessert based on the inspiration I take from the nesting fulmars, razorbills, guillemots that nest here.

I love the challenges that come with this way of life. It’s an unforgiving environment on occasions and working in the environment as closely as I do then Mother Nature can hand you a massive slap to the face. Working here and in this way keeps your feet firmly nailed to the ground. There’s no room for big egos or arrogance. Here, only a showing of great respect and humbleness will get you anywhere.

Foraging and cooking really connects you with food from the immediate environment in which you live – how can festivals like Abergavenny Food Festival encourage more people to have fun with foraging?

I think Abergavenny can help with people having fun with foraging. Although it has to be put across from a sustainable angle. There’s lots of restaurants out there using foraged goods. What chefs have to ask themselves though is “should I be using this?”, “where does it come from?”, “is it damaging the local environment, where it was picked”? It’s no good having a commercial forager picking loads of primrose and wild flowers which are important to bees and insects if it’s detrimental to the local ecosystem, or not gathering plants and ruining them at the root. Education is important moving forward.

What do you enjoy about being part of the modern Welsh food scene?

I am a very small one man band, so it’s hard for me to look at the food scene most of the time. (I have limited internet access and in the beginning I had no electricity or running water) so I am quite inward looking. What is exciting is that there is a whole lot more to come from me in the future, and from the other top chefs and restaurants out there I believe. There is plenty to discover and to learn from.