Chef, Forager and Liqueur Maker Mat Follas. Mat won the TV series BBC MasterChef in 2009, and opened his first restaurant, The Wild Garlic in Beaminster to notable acclaim.
The Wild Garlic recieved two of the highest ever ratings in The Telegraph (9/10) and The Guardian (9.5/10), two AA rosettes, and recommendations in The Good Food Guide, The Michelin Guide and Trencherman’s Guide. Mat’s new fine dining restaurant Bramble is in Sherborne, and doubles as a base for his newest adventure Mure Liqueurs.
Mat regularly runs cooking courses as well as courses on foraging and wild plants, and his recipes have been published in a variety of magazines including Good Food, Olive and Delicious. He has had three books published, Fish in 2015, Vegetable Perfection in 2016 and Afternoon Tea in 2018 (Waitrose Weekend’s Best Baking Book of 2018).
Mat often judges food competitions and events, and is a regular judge for BBC MasterChef and The Great Taste Awards.
The Random 19
1. What’s your relationship with the Blackmore Vale (the area, not us!)?
I live in Sherborne, and Bramble and Mure Liqueurs are Sherborne based; I’ve been trying for ten years to lease our current property there, but never seemed to get the timing right. Finally, 2020 was our year!
Though my foraging courses tend to be on the coast, I forage for myself throughout the Blackmore Vale – every August it has the very best English Truffles.
And no, I’m not sharing where!
2. What was the last song you sang out loud in your car?
(there was a heavy sigh down the phone line as Mat obviously debated whether to be honest or impressive here)
The Ting Tings – ‘That’s not my name’.
3. Last movie you watched? Would you recommend it?
The last movie I watched was a new Tom Clancy thing on Prime. Lots of car chases, explosions, running, panicky shouting… you know the kind of thing.
(he means Without Remorse)
But it wasn’t memorable, I couldn’t recommend it because I can’t remember enough about it. It was fine, I guess?
The last movie I remember is very different. That has to be ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’.
I loved it, absolutely great movie.
4. It’s Friday night – you have the house to yourself, and no work is allowed. What are you going to do?
A whole Friday night? Chefs do not get Friday nights off!
Okay, I’m going to cook myself a big steak, run a hot bath… and then go to bed and sleep.
That’s it. Perfect.
(hot chef’s steak tip: “Parsons the butcher in Sherborne, lovely local meats”)
5. If you were sent to an island for a year and could only bring three things, what would you bring (the island is already equipped with a magical power source, a phone and a laptop)?
• A still – obviously so that I can distill the water, and not at all so that I can spend a year making my own booze.
• My labrador Fern. I can chat to the family on the laptop, but she’s useless at Zoom.
• My favourite I.O. Shen knife. I can’t survive anywhere without a good knife.
6. Who’s your celebrity crush?
If you’re aged between 40 and 55, isn’t she everyone’s crush?
7. What book did you read last year that stayed with you?
The Phantom Tollbooth.
It’s a fun 60s kids book, a classic, and it was a bit of a comfort re-read for me. It still makes me laugh, and the philosophy contained within the wit make it a worthwhile read every time I go back.
8. What would you like to tell 15yr old you?
“Don’t be a chef!”
No, I think I’d actually be a bit predictable and say ‘don’t give up’.
Where you start is never where you end up – this is career number five for me. It will all go wrong, it will all get tough, but just keep moving forwards.
9. What was the last gift you gave someone – or you were given. Your choice.
I gave our daughter a giant stuffed rabbit. She’s sixteen, and has been worrying about her vaccinations – the rabbit has one ear called Meningitis, and one ear called Tetanus.
We’re very proud of that rabbit.
10. What shop can you not pass without going in?
Without question. It’s a bad thing.
Steve makes the BEST sourdough – I make my own for the restaurant, obviously, but I serve Steve’s on all my courses. It’s fantastic.
11. Favourite quote? Movie, book or inspirational – we won’t judge.
“I am the captain of my soul.”From Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Every year, on the longest and shortest days, we gather as a family and have a small celebration for the turning of the year. We tie ribbons in a tree, and we all choose readings to share. It’s a really special, important tradition for me.
Invictus is my daughter’s favourite reading.
12. Write the review for the last thing you cooked (no cheating – the actual last thing!).
“Deliciously rich and chocolatey, with a perfectly crumbly biscuit base. A dreadful shame the base has cracked and half the stuffing has poured out.”
(whilst we spoke, the second Chocolate Torte was finished and deemed more of a success!)
13. A penguin just walked in the door wearing a panama hat. Why is he here?
As a lover of hats, I can only presume he’s delivering. Nice.
14. Your top three most-visited favourite websites (excluding social media!)?
(I’m an exciting Internet browser, aren’t I?)
eBay – I am searching for a classic car that I can afford. I suspect I’ll still be haunting eBay for a car that I want AND can actually afford in a year’s time.
15. What in life is frankly a mystery to you?
Recognising people’s faces. It’s something to do with having ADHD – and, I suspect, possibly being on the Autism spectrum – but I simply can’t recognise faces, and really struggle when someone says hello.
“So if I’m bland when I say hello back, it’s because I honestly have no idea who you are.“
I haven’t got the faintest hope of recognising you unless you happen to be wearing the exact same outfit you were in last time.
Also, Englishness. When I set up the Wild Garlic, I installed this enormous table that seated twelve, confident that everyone would love to share one big table and chat to complete strangers over dinner. That didn’t go well.
Oh, and the English class system. It’s a whole dark art.
16. Chip Shop Chips or Homebaked Cake?
Chip shop chips, with lots of salt and malt vinegar.
17. Favourite crisp flavour?
Salt ‘n Shake.
“What do you mean? YES you can still buy them! £1.25 for six!“
18. The best biscuit for dunking?
Sorry, but it has to be an Anzac biscuit, no question.
19. You have the power to pass one law tomorrow, uncontested. What would you do?
(unhesitating) Universal Basic Income.
As a wealthy country we can afford to house and clothe our population – a basic income is an effective way of achieving that without stereotyping and judging. It helps to create jobs and alleviates child poverty. With increasing automation, UBI largely compensates for a population that exceeds the number of jobs available for probably the first time in history.
Mat’s Bramble is a small, cosy restaurant in Sherborne, now open Friday and Saturday evenings. However it is booked up two months’ ahead – and as dates are opened up, they book up, so do keep checking the website, and don’t just turn up expecting to get a table!
Mat’s Dorset ‘Wild Food Foraging’ courses are also incredibly popular – running from March to September, attendees will explore the coast, fields and hedgerows with Mat to find seasonal wild produce, before returning to Bramble for a simple lunch.
Again there is limited availability, and no weekends left for 2021 – See the course dates here.
Usually Mat’s Foraging course is £145, but he is currently running an offer via NOTHS for £70. Click to snap it up!
Mat started making gin and liqueurs seriously about five years ago. He has run gin making workshops and made delicious liqueurs, gins and flavoured spirits for his customers (and himself of course) for over 10 years.
His blackberry liqueur came about as a result of wanting liqueurs for cooking with, and after unsatisfactory results with commercial liqueurs he set out to do better. A Great Taste Award for his first liqueur confirmed that he could!