Interview with Chef Matt Davenport – Oasis Cardiff
Name of Pop-up/Business: Oasis Cardiff
How long has the business been running?
The charity has been registered for 10 years, however the catering arm has been operating for 13 months.
What was your first experience of cooking?
Growing up in a single parent household, there were plenty of times as a teenager where I had to cook for myself. After a while beans on toast and super noodles get pretty boring, so I would watch my Mum cook and ask to take part. Cooking with my Mum, especially preparing Sunday roasts, is always something that sticks with me.
Who or what inspired you to become a Chef?
I think it was the feeling of cooking with my Mum. The act of creating something for someone else to enjoy. I believe the act of cooking is the ultimate display of love for others, because I know when I have had a really great meal, it sticks with me. I want others to have that feeling from the food I create for them.
Where have you trained?
I am completely self taught. Studying cookery books, watching the golden age of TV chefs and a lot of trial and error has helped me develop my craft. I am always training though, the pursuit of creating the most delicious dishes is an ongoing passion.
What was your first job within the industry?
Whilst in my final year of Secondary school, I waited tables in a nearby pub/restaurant. A few times, after taking an interest in the grill plate, the chef would show me how to cook a steak through the stages of “doneness”. I really enjoyed the environment of the kitchen, however, the overtly macho facade of the chef was never something that I aspire to. It was always about the food for me, something I challenged the chef on (to my stupidity) when one evening his relatives were in the dining room, therefore the food had to be “it’s best”. I argued that the food should always be the same standard, regardless of who was in the dining room. Needless to say that challenge to his authority was matched with the usual macho tyrade. I still stick to that belief though, my job as a chef should be to give the best possible experience to everyone eating my food, regardless of who they are.
Is your cooking influenced by any particular region or style?
Before I started working at Oasis, my go to influences were always east asian. I love the combinations of flavours, especially the umami, salty, sweet of Japanese cuisine. Plus, ramen (the thick tonkotsu broth kind) is tantamount to ambrosia. However, after being with Oasis for the past 12 months, I have been exposed to many different cultures – especially those from the Middle East and West Africa – so my influences, especially in the utilisation of spice (those that were known and those unknown to me) has grown exponentially.
If customers had to describe their dining experience with you in only three words, what would they be?
Honest, engaging, delicious.
When you come home from work, what do you like to cook?
I think I may be one of the few people that cook with the same savvy at home, as I do at work. I am always in the kitchen, sometimes much to the dismay of my partner. Recently, we decided to cut back on animal products as much as possible and eat a predominantly plant based diet, which has created all sorts of interesting avenues for discovery. However, throughout all this experimentation, there is one humble dish that always brings me to my knees with sheer comfort. Crispy jacket potato and baked beans (with lashings of butter – or recently, olive oil). Sometimes, that’s all I want and all I need.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
A go to snack when I was younger, and especially through my penny pinching university days, was a mayonnaise sandwich. Two slices of white bread with almost as much mayo to slice ratio. The thought of it now makes my waist ache, but it was bloody good.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Delivering a full banquet for 170+ diners, using only food donations. It was tough, but we pulled off something really great.
What is the greatest compliment you have ever had about your food?
I had once made these small arabic biscuits called Ghraybeh for an event at the centre. One of the clients, a lady from Iran, asked me what arabic shop I had bought them from so she could get some for herself. When I told her I had made them, she refused to believe me because “no white man could make something like this”.
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Seeing the look on someone’s face when they have truly enjoyed a plate of food I have created for them.
What advice would you give to any young person keen to start in the industry?
Cook what you love and people will come to you, never make something that you don’t believe in because you think it will please others. Be true to your taste, but let that taste grow always. Don’t be insular, always share, always grow.
The next Oasis Cardiff pop-up is in Kemis at Pontcanna on Wednesday 11th March, tickets are £25 (+ booking fee) and can be purchased here.