SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Restaurants at state parks across West Virginia will begin sourcing local ingredients and refreshing their menus with native flair, thanks to the enlistment of a groundbreaking chef known for his exploration of native cuisine.
Known widely as the "Vagabond Chef" and frequently seen on a motorcycle as he travels the state in search of native-food experiences, Matt Welsch has been enlisted to re-imagine the menus at West Virginia parks.
West Virginia Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby welcomed Welsch and announced the infusion of West Virginia culture and haute Appalachian cuisine in park menus with deputy-chief of parks Paul Redford.
“His long-standing career is a testament to his dedication, skill, and passion for the industry," Ruby said. "We couldn’t be happier to see him step into this role with West Virginia State Parks.
"Chef Matt has been championing West Virginia for years — long before becoming one of our chef ambassadors.”
Redford underscored Welsch's understanding of the richness of West Virginia cuisine.
"Chef Matt's unparalleled talent and engaging personality align perfectly with our vision to elevate the dining experiences in our state parks," Redford said. " I believe his contributions will undoubtedly add an extra sparkle to our restaurants."
Welsch's passion for culinary artistry and commitment to West Virginia's rich flavors have made him a prominent figure in the industry. Born and raised in Marshall County, he developed wanderlust early, leading him to travel globally. In 2014, he returned to his native West Virginia to found the Vagabond Kitchen, his Wheeling-based restaurant.
Welsch will debut his employment with state parks by overseeing the "Taste of West Virginia Event" at the Hunting and Fishing Weekend, featuring creative culinary delights now served at Cacapon, Hawks Nest, Chief Logan, and Twin Falls state parks.
In 2023, Welsch turned heads at a Farm-to-Table dinner at Hawks Nest State Park that featured six courses, including dishes such as churched-up soup beans with cornbread dust, spicy-sweet pickled onions, and candied lardon and spring salad with ramp marinated feta dressing, all incorporating locally sourced ingredients.
“I aim to be the best resource for West Virginia State Parks, but I certainly don't know everything,” said Chef Matt. “I can promise that if I don't have the answer, I will either find it or give my best educated guess."
Redford said that with the help of Welsch, the state park system aims to elevate its restaurant experience to provide a welcoming environment for visitors to savor West Virginia's flavors.
Welsch publishes on YouTube at The Vagabond Chef Rides.