Meet the chef: Gareth Stevenson on Welsh cuisine, sustainable sourcing and his favourite local producers

The restaurant at Palé Hall, in Bala, Gwynedd, has just been awarded the new Michelin Green Star for its sustainable practises. Here, its head chef reveals what he loves about Wales' food scene.

By WELSH GOVERNMENT FOOD & DRINK WALES
Published 1 Mar 2021, 10:52 GMT
When it comes to sustainable sourcing, Gareth says that 'it's a big part of what we do ...

When it comes to sustainable sourcing, Gareth says that 'it's a big part of what we do and are trying to do as an industry in Wales.'

Photograph by Palé Hall Hotel & Restaurant

Taking inspiration from its rich natural larder, a growing number of young chefs are revolutionising the food scene in Wales, plucking ingredients from land and sea for fresh, innovative dishes. Also benefiting the country’s culinary scene is its determination to remain aligned with the green curve. In kitchens across Wales, chefs — steered by an ambitious vision set out by the Welsh Government — are increasingly adopting a low-waste approach, meticulously observing the seasons and experimenting with ingredients nurtured just down the road. The focus is firmly on local, from shellfish found clinging to rocks along the west coast, and shoals of mackerel and sea bass fished a little further offshore, to organic cheese churned from the milk of Welsh cattle. There’s even a growing crop of distillers gathering fruits and botanicals for prime gins.

How would you describe your cooking?
I use a lot of classic flavours with a few added modern techniques. And although there are elements of Japanese culinary culture and a few bits of Middle Eastern thrown in, I’d say it’s more modern European. 

Tell us about your menu.
We have three menus at Palé Hall: a five-course, eight-course and a casual dining option, all of which have been developed and inspired by our local surroundings. We follow the seasons and speak to our producers and suppliers and develop dishes based on their experiences. Seasonality and locality are the two main driving points — and it’s my job to take those raw ingredients and elevate them.

What is it about Welsh ingredients that you love?
For me, it’s synonymous with nature and quality. Drive in any direction from Palé and you’ll see Welsh cattle grazing in fields and Welsh mountain lambs — and both are on the menu. There are even orchards where fruits are pressed on site and transformed into botanicals for entirely Welsh gins. It’s world-class, in my opinion.

How important is sustainable sourcing for you? 
It’s a big part of what we do and are trying to do as an industry in Wales. People want to know where their food comes from and that it’s had either little impact or a good impact on our surroundings. I think we have a responsibility for future generations.

Who are your favourite local producers?
We use a fantastic butcher, T J Roberts & Son, which sources a lot of our Welsh produce and ages meat to spec for us. There’s also the Rhug Estate, an organic farm 10 miles down the road, and David Ogilvie, who supplies our rare breed lamb. And then there’s Conwy mussels, which are hand-raked in North Wales.

When you’re not working, where do you like to eat in the area?
There’s a great pub in a nearby village, Llandrillo, called the Dudley Arms, that does spot-on homemade food. I really want to try Michelin-starred Ynyshir Restaurant and Rooms, on the coast of Mid Wales.

Which are your favourite Welsh regions for food?  
We’re really lucky in Wales. Up in the north around Anglesey, you’ve got crabs, lobsters and Conwy mussels. Come a little further down to Mid Wales and you’ll find fantastic meat producers, and on the west coast, hauls of mackerel and sea bass, with large producers of meat and lamb further inland. There’s excellent shellfish around the Pembrokeshire coast and great cheese in the south.

What’s your food philosophy?
It has to be flavour first; I don’t put something on a plate just because it looks good. It’s not all aesthetics; if it’s on the dish, there needs to be a reason. Local produce where possible, too, is fundamental to my cooking. At Palé Hall, we grow our own salad and micro herbs, and pluck apples and pears direct from our orchard to make chutneys. Finally, it has to be sustainable — not just in terms of food mileage, but thinking about kitchen waste and putting it back into the growing cycle.

Do you have an all-time favourite ingredient?
That’s such a difficult question. I love cheese and underused cuts of meat like oxtail — they’ve such an incredible depth of flavour. I love rhubarb and strawberry. It’s too tricky to answer. If you asked me the ingredient I loathe, I can answer that. Kippers.

What’s your guilty pleasure? 
Smooth peanut butter. On a spoon. And not a teaspoon.

Who’d be your dream dinner guest?
Anthony Bourdain as my number one. I could watch his programmes for hours on end. He had so much charisma, an insatiable love for food and drink, and he could tell a story. I’d say that’s the ideal dinner guest. And also Ryan Reynolds — for one, he’s very funny. And he’s also just bought Wrexham, my Dad’s football team.

What does the future hold for you as a chef?
Hopefully a Michelin star. I’d also love to have my own restaurant. I’ve been working with the government on sustainability in the industry and how we can improve and I’d love to get more chefs on board. For me, it’s about having a clear conscience, and if you travel to Wales, you’ll be able to dine on excellent food with a clear conscience.

For more information on the Welsh Government's new sustainability vision, visit: businesswales.gov.wales/foodanddrink/how-we-can-help/land-sustains-us

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