We sit where the road meets the sand dunes. Behind us the quiet solar powered beach hut is prepped ready for customers and in front of us the waves at Freshwater West gently crash onto the shore.
This is where Jonathan grew up, learned to surf and after a short stint away, came back to sell amazing seafood from a beachfront shack.
We chat briefly before heading off to forage for seaweed. We pass the only seaweed hut left from a once thriving industry and Jonathan fills us in on the history of the famed laver seaweed.
Back in 1879, a ship travelling from San Francisco to Liverpool was hit by a storm and was wrecked on a nearby beach. Its cargo was strewn across Freshwater West, fifteen thousand boxes of new world delights lined the coast. Word spread like wildfire and folk rushed to take advantage of this free bounty. It was here a number of enterprising chaps from Swansea saw the laver beds, or ‘black gold’ as it became known and struck a deal with the locals to harvest it. This was the start of the of the seaweed industry in Pembrokeshire.
It was this story that inspired Jonathan to open the seaweed kitchen now known as Cafe Môr and he started by serving up the black gold in the form of laver bread, a high-protein, traditional Welsh delicacy. Jonathan tells us, “After picking the seaweed, we thoroughly wash it and then cook it until it becomes soft. We then mince it to convert it into a thick black/green paste like texture and add some oats and seasoning, shape it, fry it off and serve in a bun – beautiful.”
Jonathan has always cooked for others, at home as a kid, during uni, at summer jobs and at various restaurants and kitchens. His first real cheffing job was at the local army barracks minutes away from Freshwater West. He says, “I blagged the interview so when I got it, I had to ring my mum for recipes and then multiply by four to five hundred. The most I ever cooked for was fifteen hundred people.” As well as cooking for huge numbers he also worked in high-end kitchens cooking for intimate numbers; these extremes gave him the skills he needed to cope with the ever-changing customers that arrive at the shack. “Last year, from this hut, we cooked nearly fifty thousand meals. It’s so extreme though, one sunny Easter day we did four hundred covers; the very next day it lashed it down and we served seven people.”
All the food Jonathan serves is locally sourced: the lobster, crab and mackerel all come from the Pembrokeshire waters, the meats from local farms and the bread from local bakeries. Even the sauces are homemade – they have ‘Kelpchup’, seaweed butter, homemade mayo and a delicious seaweed sweet chilli. The hut itself is powered by solar panels, so instead of hearing a generator chugging away, all you can hear is waves, wind and the sizzle of the food cooking. Last year he commissioned Cardiff University to do a study on the sustainability of the laver seaweed on the nearby local beaches. “I want to know what I’m doing by taking the small amounts of seaweed won’t affect the environment.”
We arrive back at the shack with a bag full of seaweed. Earlier we’d tried the laver bread and we were dying to try the lobster roll we’d heard so much about. After a few moments he hands us both the freshest Welsh lobster, cooked with melted, salty, seaweed butter, all held together by an artisan bun. We turn, leaning against the shack overlooking a beautiful beach with the sun beaming down on us; it is the perfect combination of gastronomic delights and environmental splendour and we savour every bite.
As well as the shack, Jonathan has a ship, which he takes to festivals to feed the hungry crowds with his seafood delights; while his jars of laver bread, kelpchup and sea truffle butter are stocked in over two hundred shops and deli’s around the UK. And in true entrepreneurial style, whilst on maternity leave, he launched a seaweed-infused rum into the market, taken from an old pirate recipe.
In 2014, Cafe Môr won the BBC Food & Farming award for ‘Best Street Food/Take Away in the UK’ and in 2016 they earned a ‘Great Taste Award’. They are also the second of only two mobile food outlets in the UK to power their kitchens using solar and wind energy.
The locally-sourced menu is sublime and Jonathan’s passion is infectious; as we leave, the queues are starting to form and it is easy to see why: amazing food and spectacular scenery have become the perfect recipe for success n