Our first competitor? In the Wales and the West heats? Had to be, really….Jonathan Williams, the crown prince of Welsh street food, forager of seaweed and the winner of the British Street Food Awards back in 2011. He says he’s coming back to reclaim his crown. But that’s up to you — and your votes on the weekend of June 5-7. Although Matt Tebbutt off the telly (and previously the Foxhunter at Nant-y-derry) will be popping down to choose his personal favourite for a wild card to the final. We decided to give Jonno the Jeremy Paxman treatment on your behalf….
Where is the best street food in the world?
Oooh tough, that’s like asking which grandparent I love best! I simply love all different types of food and get very excited trying new dishes. If you asked me this question 10 years ago I would have said Asia; street food in China, Indonesia and Thailand is fantastic – I was addicted to steamed dim sum with that lovely pork filling, and satay chicken or steamed tuna in banana leaves. But since then, I’ve had amazing food in Zanzibar, the best seafood market I have ever seen with stall after stall of fresh fish and shellfish cooking away on big bbq’s. The late night open air food stalls in Marrakech are also a true wonder.
More recently I have got into Caribbean food, salt fish dumplings, chicken dumplings and patties. I also had the best ever lamb kebab in Athens which I can still taste to this day and am yet to replicate, saying all that I get just as excited about pizza and ice cream in Italy or even steak and chip butties in France. I think I will need to get to the Americas and the Middle East before I can answer this question.
Favourite street food memory?
On the 27th of December in 2006 we had just spent Christmas on one of the lovely beaches on the East coast of Zanzibar and we ventured back to Stonetown to get some supplies before we headed up to the North coast for the New Year’s Eve beach party. I had heard about a night food market next to the sea so we headed down to the port. What greeted me was simply one of the greatest sights I have ever seen, row after row of freshly cooked seafood, lobsters stacked up high, crabs, massive prawns, grilled fish – I didn’t know where to start – I was in a daze for about an hour.
What’s the best street food you’ve had in this country?
BSFA 2011 Finals was pretty fantastic!
Are you all mates with all the traders? Who in particular?
I love the camaraderie between stall-holders, and the fact that everyone helps each other out. Anyone up for food swaps is a mate of mine!
Any secret ingredients?
Lots of seaweed and love!!
The British are a nation of shopkeepers. If I told you I thought you were cool and entrepreneurial – an embodiment of the British spirit – what would you say?
Does the fight for a good pitch ever get nasty?
All very civilised to date, I keep a crow bar in the van just in case.
How is your van customised?
We have the truly wonderful Beach Shack, made from driftwood which has travelled the seven seas, survived hurricanes, tidal waves and sea monsters. It has been hand crafted by grand masters of wood who have long beards, checked shirts and little yellow chewed up pencils behind their ears. Mermaids have lovingly painted it in the colours of the sea and so if you listen closely you can still hear them singing!
What do the British Street Food Awards mean to you?
I think it’s fantastic seeing people getting out there and cooking up fabulous dishes, starting new ventures, passions becoming a source of income and the British Street Food Awards really champion these people. This means more great food, more great theatre in Street Food
CD player, IPod or Silence?
IPOD for crusing down the motorway, setting up and cooking it up.
Silence at the end of the season, just pure silence and reflection.
Best line when you’re trying to sell to punters who just aren’t interested?
Hey, you have just walked past the best street food in the UK!
Most unusual request?
I sell products with seaweed in, it doesn’t get much more unusual than that.
A little history:
I was sitting at my desk in Swindon wondering how on earth I had ended up there. I was missing the sea and the beaches of Pembrokeshire and was thinking I needed to find a way to get back home – spending hours every day in front of the computer was not what I wanted to do. So one night I sat down and really looked at what I enjoyed in life and it became clear that the sea, food, and being creative are my passions. The next day I told my boss that I was going to work part time to allow me to start my new mobile catering career which would be based on the best of Pembrokeshire produce from the sea and wild seashore plants and seaweeds.
I have had lots of experience cooking as I fell into a job as a chef at a local army camp when I came back home broke from backpacking. I simply lied saying that I had cooked all over Australia to get the job and so I soon found myself sneaking outside the kitchen door phoning my Mum for recipes and then simply multiplying the ingredients to the numbers I was catering for, which was usually a couple of hundred. Admittedly, I had a few disasters, super stodgy pasta, burnt 50 gallon pots and dense solid sponge cake, but I always managed to keep calm in the heat of the kitchen and so when the Sergeant stormed in telling us there’s another 150 people to feed with only 1 hours notice, while some chefs broke down in tears and collapsed outside, I just cracked on and did the best I could.
While working for the army certainly trained my skills in quantity cooking for the masses it did not train me in cooking quality. This is where Spanish Maria came in, cooking in a lovely Spanish deli in Pembrokeshire, Maria shared her passion for great ingredients and great dishes, Spanish seafood tapas, freshly made bread, thick Spanish chocolate, lovely summer salads and the freedom of the kitchen to create your own, ah Maria.
My first Cafe Môr stall was outside a farm shop in North Pembrokeshire, I spent 14 hrs preparing homemade sushi, seafood salads, tarts, quiches, crab mousses, potted shrimp and samphire salads – clearly following my passion rather than my business sense! I borrowed an old 70’s table cloth from my parents and set up camp for the day. I had £123 in sales from my first day, at least £50 of which came from friends and family, giving an hourly rate of £1.69 and it felt fantastic! Things are a bit better now. But I can’t wait to come and compete in Cardiff. Bring it on.