LISTEN: Vagabond Chef Describes Culinary Motorcycle Tour of W.Va.
Matt Welsch, also known as the Vagabond Chef, has traveled all over the world experiencing culinary arts and food. You can find a taste of those travels at his restaurant, the Vagabond Kitchen, in Wheeling. Welsch recently took a 10-day motorcycle trip across the state of West Virginia. Over the course of 1500 miles, and throughout 39 counties, Welsch's objective was to connect and find other West Virginians who are passionate about cuisine, spirits, and celebrating the Mountain State in general. The Vagabond Chef calls the trip “a true immersion experience.”
Q: What was the impetus for this tour?
A: Starting from a very young age I was really interested in exploring and finding more about the world, so as soon as I was able to I started traveling. Like ripples in a pond my travels got further and further away. What I realized when I came home after doing the Vagabond Chef travels in 2013, going all over the country, and throughout the world as an adult, I’d never really explored West Virginia.
Through what I’ve been doing as the Vagabond Chef here in Wheeling, I’ve seen the energy in West Virginia - specifically in Wheeling, but I see it throughout the whole state: Let’s find a way to pick ourselves up and stand on our own two feet; let’s find a viable economy that celebrates what makes West Virginia great instead of destroys it. I couldn’t be a bigger proponent for that. So I wanted to find those stories and draw those things together through the course of my own exploration of what makes our state great.
Q: Tell me about some of the places you visited.
A: So I got to meet some really great people and it’s great to see how interconnected everyone is. When I talked with Joe Beter and Jewel City Seafood, he had actually gone to school in Wheeling, he worked at Ernie’s Esquire. After that he went to Florida and was high up in a whole sale big seafood company for several years. Now he’s taken all that experience and knowledge back to Huntington and he has probably the best seafood that I’ve ever had because he knows what to look for and he will not settle for anything less than the best.
I got to hear the story of places like Pies and Pints in Fayetteville. Started out as just kind of a place for raft guides to hang out and just exploded. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with getting so big? And having franchises in Morgantown, Charleston, and two or three in Columbus, I think they said?
Keeley Steele and Bluegrass Kitchen, Starlings, and Tricky Fish in Charleston. Her and her husband John have expanded their business to three different locations, three different concepts, on the same block. They have created the neighborhood they wanted to live in. That’s super-awesome.
There are all these different people finding all these different paths to achieve what’s really the same goal: How do I find a way to live my life and go to work and feel good about it? How do I wake up in the morning with a smile on my face and give back to my community?
Q: What are you taking away from your experience?
A: I hope to be able to build the Vagabond Kitchen and the Vagabond Chef. So I hope to be able to develop the Vagabond Chef into more of a respected and desired travel blogger, and Vagabond Kitchen into a destination and into a Vagabond empire of different concepts and different locations. And to continue to build and grow and give back. I believe that success is helping other people.