Pembrokeshire people..... meet Maria Grimwood
We caught up with Maria Grimwood, owner of Maria’s Courtyard Restaurant at Picton Castle and the phenomenally successful Ultracomida Deli’s, to talk about bringing a taste of Spanish cuisine to Pembrokeshire.
Visit Pembrokeshire (VP): Tell us about how you came to be in Pembrokeshire and where your passion for food comes from.
Maria(M): I grew up having a fascination with food and cooking, spending hours every day helping mother prepare the meals for my father and 3 brothers. When I was 16 I met an English gentleman Paul, who was visiting the area on a university trip. A few years later I married him and we moved to Oxford. On my first day I wanted to return home to Spain, as my first meal here was a Fray Bentos Pie in a tin, sliced white bread and instant coffee! I had never seen them before.
I was determined to cook fresh food for ourselves, cooking was a way of feeling close to my parents who were now miles away in Spain.
After we had our three children we set off to Pembrokeshire to run a hotel in Narberth, what is now the Plas Hyfryd.
VP: Ultracomida Deli, now owned by your son and daughter in law, is such a staple in the food landscape of Pembrokeshire, how did you come to set this up?
M: The hotel closed early, so we focused on opening a small deli, the business was based in a small shop just off Water Street at the bottom of Narberth’s high street.
We identified a gap in the market for a shop selling good quality ingredients and baguettes to go, for the ever-increasing number of office workers in Narberth. We had a strong following of locals, luckily and at one point we had the deli, Herons Brook coffee shop, the Queens Hall café, and were running the catering at Narberth Rugby Club. All of which served very English style food.
With the shop being smaller than most people’s bathrooms we purchased a bigger shop on the high street and set up the deli. We started to specialise in Spanish food that we sourced from a Spanish wholesaler in London. This meant I was able to introduce my cuisine from my home roots, and traditional Spanish food was born in Pembrokeshire.
VP: When your son took over Ultracomida and you came to focus your attention solely at Picton, how did you find that changed the way you cooked?
M: Visitors are amazed to find a Spanish influence on the menu. I have no formal qualifications in catering, simply a passion and creativity which I get from my childhood. I also get inspired from the seasonal changes, which is often found glaring out of the courtyard and grounds at Picton Castle.
I think my passion for cooking comes from my mother, who would always prepare the family meals with fresh produce from their village. The style and cooking methods in Britain are completely different to the traditional methods I used when growing up, but with these new methods my family recipes and pure passion for food has enabled me to create typical Spanish cuisine here in Pembrokeshire.
I use local produce and suppliers as much as I can: meat is supplied by a Narberth butcher, a local organic veg producer delivers weekly and fresh free range eggs from Haverfordwest which I combine with Spanish produce from our shop and deli.
VP: Tell us about working with Nigel Slater and what it was like to cook for the Her Majesty The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh when they came to Pembrokeshire - Were you nervous?
M: I had never dreamt of cooking for royalty. At the time there were several sleepless nights thinking about and designing a suitable menu. And a whole host of questions … Will they want silver service, will there be someone watching over me cooking, what would Her Majesty really like to eat, what would show off local produce to its best etc, etc.
After numerous taster sessions, planning and sourcing local produce in season, by the time the day came, I was calm and the meal was amazing, such an honour and privilege and a highlight to my career.
Then I had a phone call, ‘would I be able to cook a traditional Spanish dish ‘Fideua’ with Nigel Slater for his new show that will be aired in early 2015’ from a production company in Bristol. Filming was amazing and working with such a great production company and film crew it was another highlight of my year. Nigel Slater’s cook books have always been a favourite of mine so to then have the opportunity to cook with him was another unreal event of this year.
Nigel was very relaxed and has a passion for good food cooked with love, so we were a perfect match. We filmed in my garden and it was exciting to teach someone I would normally watch on telly to cook a traditional Spanish dish that I’ve cooked so many times before. We then went to a follow up day filming on location in a house in Hampshire with others cooks from the same episode.
Maria appeared in episode 6 of the BBC's Nigel Slater:Eating together.
Maria@Picton restaurant,shop and deli is open all year round in the grounds of Picton Castle
Combine a visit to Maria's Courtyard Restaurant with a weekend break in Narberth - Don't forget to stock up on those amazing Spanish delights from Ultracomida before you leave.