Matt Welsch is the owner of The Vagabond Kitchen, based in Wheeling, West Virginia. In 2013, Welsch, The Vagabond Kitchen Chef, traversed the country by motorcycle discovering and exploring the culinary renaissance in the United States. At the end of the year, he returned home to Wheeling bringing with him a wealth of restaurant and food experience, inspiration and excitement which became the foundation of The Vagabond Kitchen.
Welsch talked with Jim Matuga, host of The Positively West Virginia Podcast, about his business and how it came to be The Vagabond Kitchen that it is today.
How did you get started in this line of work?
“How The Vagabond Kitchen chef came together was a kind of a come to Jesus moment. Where I realized I was probably going to have to work for most of my life and I wanted to find a way to do that, that it didn’t feel like work. I could bring all of my different passions together into one thing. At this point, I was cooking at a cross country ski lodge in Idaho. I had been out there for four or five years and I was really feeling good about the culinary world, my skills in the kitchen and what I could bring to the table. I was in the cooking mindset. I had also finally gotten a motorcycle, which had been a lifelong dream. I spent most of my adult life traveling around the country and the world sharing my experiences through written word and photography. I took all of that stuff together and I came up with The Vagabond Chef.”
“I really got started growing up on a farm in rural West Virginia just being self-sufficient. When I was in college, I actually went to art school, got a degree there and then I went back to college. I was putting myself through college a second time for a four-year degree at Pittsburgh Technical Institute for a degree in specialized technology for graphic design. I realized I did not want to do graphic design and then I went back to West Liberty University for English literature and philosophy.”
Talk about The Vagabond Chef as a personality.
“This has been one of the more interesting parts about it. When I came back from the trip at the end of 2013, there was all this excitement about being in Wheeling and revitalizing Wheeling. It was honestly the most positive I’d ever seen the mindset around here and I was like man I want to be a part of this, I want on this train. We first opened up in the basement of The McLure Hotel, which is ironically right across the street from where we are now. I learned very quickly that if I sat in this basement and made the best food that anyone within two hundred miles had ever tasted and there was no one here to eat it, what was the point. I had to get out there. Honestly, I am an introvert and very uncomfortable in the spotlight. I had to push myself to get out there in front of people and talk to folks about what we are doing, explain to them why it was important and to draw them to come in. I had to become that person,” said Welsch. “I hope to translate that sense of adventure and rope people into being a part of the journey.”
What are some of the popular dishes that you have on your menu right now?
“For lunch, we go more towards wraps and sandwiches that sort of thing and dinner we do a little more higher-end trays, pasta and things like that. But all day long we have burgers. They are super popular. Burgers are really hot right now. We do a cool take on burgers. We try to do stuff that you’re not going to find anywhere else. During lunch, one of our huge things is a chicken salad wrap, which sounds kind of boring as a chef. But, we poach chicken thighs in chicken stock. We rehydrate dried cranberries in white wine. We put shallots in there, a little bit of mayo and it is a delicious chicken salad.”
Talk about your experience on the TV show.
“It was the most surreal experience of my life all day long. I was kind of like is this really happening. I had the opportunity to sit down with Chris Kefauver, who’s the chef and one of the head instructors here at West Virginia Northern Community College Culinary Department. We just did some brainstorming sessions to try and get my head wrapped around that this was happening because it all came together in two weeks. It was super fast,” Welsch said.
“It was fascinating to see what those shows are like behind the scenes and just how well organized everything is.”
Welsch was a guest on The Positively West Virginia Podcast. Listen to his full podcast here.
PWV QUICK BITS
- RECOMMENDED BOOKS: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig and Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain.
- RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Evernote
- PIECES OF ADVICE: “This is all about having a happy death. My whole modus operandi for my life is that I want to die happy and the only way to do that is to live a good life and be happy about it.” Welsch continued to advise,“ You have to live, breathe, eat and sleep your vision to make it come true. Otherwise, it is just a hobby and let it be a hobby, there’s nothing wrong with that.”