ADVERTISEMENT

Homeless chef Matt Welsch returns to his home in W.Va.

Smoked Chicken Cornbread Casserole is a signature dish served at Vagabond Kitchen, the restaurant where chef Matt Welsch plies his trade, in Wheeling, West Virginia.
ADVERTISEMENT

Standing at 6 feet 3 inches tall with tattoos covering most of his arms, Matt Welsch can seem a daunting figure as he rides his motorcycle through West Virginia’s Ohio Valley. He calls himself a drifter, wandering from place to place with no home or job, struggling to get by.

He was a true drifter at one point, but is now a highly sought after chef, embracing his love of cooking in northern West Virginia. That passion earned him recognition as one of West Virginia’s inaugural class ambassador chefs, a position he will serve for one year. Welsch represents the northern Panhandle for the program, which is sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Tourism.

Welsch runs downtown Wheeling’s Vagabond Kitchen restaurant, known for its creative dishes with local flavors. He has been featured in Guy’s Grocery Games, The Cast Iron Cookoff, West Virginia’s 40 Under 40, Taste WV Magazine, and WV Living.

Homeless

Chief Matt Welsch
Chief Matt Welsch

Born prematurely, with underdeveloped lungs and breathing problems, Welsch was an introverted child. He read a lot and pursued an “active inner life”, as he puts it. “He was engrossed with the idea of ​​traveling and exploring the world from a very young age,” he said.

And so, he left his hometown, near Limestone, West Virginia, to wander Europe, South America, and Japan with no other plan than to experience the local food and culture.

Eventually, he decided to do the same in the United States, crossing the country five times in nine months. He discovered new culinary techniques by stopping at more than 60 restaurants and traveling more than 13,000 miles, while maintaining a successful blog documenting regional flavors at a variety of restaurants.

Coming home

As exciting as those experiences were, he felt the urge to return home. “It wasn’t until I finally got rid of the gravity of my hometown that I felt like I could make the decision to return,” she said. “As I met more people around the world, I felt a longing for the people here. Not just my friends and family, but Appalachians and West Virginians in general.”

However, he did not completely leave his travels behind. He brings that style to his kitchen. “That balance of safe danger and edgy comfort is something I try to walk in my life and in my kitchen,” she said.

What’s on the menu at Vagabond Kitchen? What is indigenous and in season. Welsch sources ingredients from other local businesses like Wheeling’s Public Market, a nonprofit grocery store with produce from more than 40 regional farmers who share in the market’s profits. She also buys fresh groceries at Jebbiah’s Market, which is a family business and offers fruits and vegetables every day.

“It’s my job to highlight the hard work of markets like this and of farmers in the state and what they’re doing, so that other people realize that they can eat so well at home and can look for that in their everyday experience. ” he said. “There is something almost magical about food raised in the same soil that you step on every day.”

Tramp Kitchen
1201 Market Street
Wheels, WV 26003

Follow on social networks:
Youtube: @theVagabondChefRides
Instagram: @vagabondkitchenwv

Slow food

For Welsch, food is not just a creative outlet, but a lesson in regional roots with dishes like “cellar ravioli” and “mountaintop meatloaf.” “What I’m trying to do is get to a generation,” he said. It’s “slow food”.

Chef Matt uses cast iron and bacon grease for many of his meals. He seeks out and crafts Appalachian heritage dishes while exploring his own cultural identity and taking time to prepare dishes. Sometimes he takes hours and sometimes it takes days.

Pork is always on the menu, as is cornbread, although it changes the menu four times a year after much research.

Welsch also hopes to help develop a flourishing group called the WV Cooks, which brings together like-minded people across the state to network, commiserate, teach and market.

STAY INFORMED. REGISTER!

Up-to-date agricultural news in your inbox!