Usk born chef Matt Waldron will be battling Gordon Ramsay on home soil, this Wednesday on National Geographic’s new series – Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted Showdown.
Growing up, Matt had dreams of being a pilot, but that all changed when he started working in a small country house hotel in his hometown, Usk, named The Glen yr Afon. From doing a few bits over the weekend to gaining hours over the summer, Matt found himself falling in love with cooking and all the work that goes along with it.
After completing his apprenticeship in cooking, his interests led him to London where he achieved a degree in culinary arts and food science at the University of West London. The big city would be the making of Matt as he got to work in various established restaurants including The Connaught Hotel, under Hélène Darroze.
Matt spoke about how this inspired him, saying “When I started cooking, it was chefs like Gordon Ramsay who I would look up to. He was and still is one of the best chefs in the UK. However, the biggest influence now moving forward is Hélène Darroze. Her philosophy is all about keeping things simple and concentrating purely on the product and the flavour you can get from it. All the ingredients she uses is there for a reason and it is not about the frills – just the flavour.”
Matt spent two and a half years with Hélène before moving back to Wales, working as a sous chef at Restaurant James Sommerin in Penarth; starting from the opening of the restaurant to when it finally gained a Michelin Star. The experience gave Matt a great insight into how a successful restaurant is run and all that comes with the territory.
Following his time there, he went on to work for Gareth Ward at Ynyshir, which holds a Michelin Star and 5 AA Rosettes, before earning the position of head chef at Park House Restaurant in Cardiff.
Matt’s style of cooking is rooted in exquisite flavour, using Welsh produce from the coasts and off the mountains. From this, he has cultivated strong relationships with farmers and works closely with small local suppliers, which gives him the ability to handpick the produce to ensure it’s the best he can get his hands on.
When asked about his favourite dish to make, Matt admitted that his true passion is meat. “I love working with game... We work a lot with local venison and try to stick with the ethos of using the whole animal.”
In 2019 Matt was appointed head chef at the well renowned Stackpole Inn in Pembrokeshire, where he continues to work. This beautiful part of Wales was the backdrop of the episode he features in.
Viewers will have the opportunity to see Matt and Gordon suspended from a helicopter, fishing from a teacup-sized boat, discovering local cheese aged in a mine and harvesting seaweed from the seas of Pembrokeshire. This culminates with a cook off in an unspoiled, rural area, judged by producers and suppliers.
Working beside Gordon Ramsay would be daunting for anyone but Matt was firm in saying that the persona Gordon reflects on screen is very different to real life. “There is no harshness or aggression. Standing next to him, he has a great presence – he is one of the most down to earth people I’ve met.”
However, the star of the episode will be the food that Wales has to offer and the beauty of our country. “Everyone thinks Welsh food is simple, and I suppose it is” Matt said “but we have some of the best produce – fish, meat – in the world and you don’t have to do much to make it stand out!”
He continued to discuss his favourite Welsh dishes, “cawl is the perfect soul food on a cold, windy day. Since returning to Wales, it’s food like that, which really stands out – especially in the winter. I do really love a Welsh rarebit as well... here at the Stackpole Inn we make a delicious dish of crab Welsh rarebit on a crumpet!”
Be sure to tune in and see how Matt does on the ‘Wales Tales’ episode of Gordon Ramsay Uncharted: UK Showdown on National Geographic, Wednesday 16 November at 8pm.