Meet Jon: the man behind the seaweed
A typical breezy morning at Fresh West, we wrap up and head out to the rocks where the seaweed is being exposed by the low spring tide.
Jon is eager to find some kelp, but the tide isn’t quite low enough yet so we set to prising soft laver from the rocks where it is quickly drying in the sun.
Jon left his ‘real’ office job over 7 years ago, to come back to Pembrokeshire and do what he loved. With a background in cooking and a childhood spent picking over cockles and seaweed on Pembrokeshire beaches, he was perfectly positioned to make his dream a reality.
Starting off with the now famous ‘Café Mor’ street food van, selling those incredible seaweed brownies amongst other delights, Pembrokeshire Beach Food has grown to include a line of seasonings, sea herbs, ships biscuits, pesto and even laverbread butter now sold internationally. Even when Café Mor is packed away at the end of summer, the mermaids are still hard at work down the road in Pembroke Dock, gathering, storing, testing, tasting and packaging up all the goodness the seashore has to offer.
Jon is passionate about the shoreline and protecting it, not only is it his workplace, but its where he comes to play too as an avid surfer. ‘We’re part funding a PhD from Swansea university so we can better understand how and where the laver grows. After selling in Japan last year and visiting too, I could really see just how important seaweed can become in our diets.’
Jon is determined to keep his business sustainable, to know the true impact its having on the coastline, which is why he’s involved with Swansea university, but also why he’s looking into farming seaweed too.
Nutrient dense, easy to grow, packed full of iron and protein, seaweed has caught the attention of many a nutritionist in the last decade, but the trade has been alive and well in Wales for centuries.
As we forage and fill buckets, over our shoulder on the headland a seaweed hut can be seen- it’s a reminder of the booming laver trade that was once here. The women who worked all hours collecting seaweed and stored tonnes of it in the many huts like this one to dry.
Back in the seaweed beds, we’re avoiding slipping into rockpools and keeping an eye out for different varieties- there are hundreds. Jon stops, picks a little piece or small, red seaweed and passes it to me to try. It’s pepper dulse, deeply savoury, with a peppery kick. Delicious. ‘We’re trialing it with organic Welsh butter tomorrow.’
Hmmm, perhaps a career change is in order for me too - I’m all set to don my fins and become a mermaid full time.
Next time you're spending 48 hours in Pembroke make sure you make a bee-line for Cafe Mor - you wont be disappointed.
You can learn more about Pembrokeshire Beach Food, and discover lots of recipes for seaweed on their website. Have you been to visit the Café Mor shack? Or are you an avid seaweed forager yourself? Get in touch on Facebook or Twitter- we’d love to hear your stories.