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Cerys Matthews on paella, clean eating and potatoes

Ahead of The Good Life Experience festival in September, the musician, BBC Radio 6 Music DJ and fesitval organiser tells us about her favourite dishes from around the world — plus her culinary bugbears

Cerys Matthews on paella, clean eating and potatoes
Image: Nenad Obradovic

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I carry chillies with me wherever I go. I’ve been eating them ever since I was a child — I love them. South Indian food is my favourite, with mustard seeds and curry leaves and all the rest. I like subtle flavours too, but definitely with chopped fresh chillies on the side.

Espresso in the morning makes me too excited. On my radio show I’m playing some of my favourite records, and I tend to geek out a bit. When I get too excited I talk fast and my voice goes high, and I’m not sure it’s particularly listenable; if I add espresso to excitement and I play long-lost gems by John Coltrane, that’s not going to be very cool. I tend not to drink coffee until we’re further into the show — when my energy levels are dipping, I’ll give myself a cappuccino.

I’m trying to learn to cook meals from around the world. I’m a fan of Japanese food, and my absolute favourite dish is agedashi tofu — deep-fried tofu. Sukiyaki, a hotpot dish similar to Welsh cawl, is also great, especially in winter. I use miso paste for the broth, and kombu [kelp], because I’m trying to use more seaweed. Being Welsh, I’m used to laverbread.

You must never use chorizo in paella. When I was 18, I lived in Spain for a year, staying with a family in a little village just outside Barcelona. The mother was from Valencia and she taught me how to cook — things like calçots, like thick spring onions, which you roast on top of a fire and then you peel and dip into a peanut and tomato sauce. I also learnt how to make paella, which traditionally is made with rabbit. People are putting chorizo in everything at the moment. Enough! Because I don’t eat meat now, I use a lot of rosemary in paella — and fava beans for protein.

I don’t like the phrase ‘clean eating’. What I’m passionate about is eating wholefoods and knowing what’s in everything. I’m also trying to encourage Waitrose and Sainsbury’s to open an aisle of dried goods, where you can refill your original container and avoid single-use plastic or cardboard.

We don’t give enough kudos to potatoes, onions and lentils. They’re so humble and often taken for granted. You use an onion as your base for so many things — gravies, soups, sauces. With lentils, you taste a good dhal and you’ve tasted heaven. And potatoes are so versatile.

Cooking on fire is a culinary passion of mine. I love cooking outside and being close to nature, which is what I wanted for The Good Life Experience festival (pictured). We have chefs like Bill Granger, Tom Herbert and Claire Thomson doing demonstrations on a massive camp fire.

Cerys Matthews’ The Good Life Experience takes place in Flintshire 14-16 September. Interview by Farida Zeynalova, published in Issue 2 of National Geographic Traveller Food.
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