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Welsh Rare Bits at the Folklife Festival

Meet Hazel, Gareth, Ana, Anthony, Angela and Geraldine, your Welsh cooking guides on the Mall for the next few weeks. (Bonnie Benwick -- The Washington Post)

Quick: Name a Welsh dish you know and love (yes, there's a recipe in the section today, but that would be cheating). I was probably right where you are -- until I got to spend some time this morning with six of Wales's best food ambassadors, who are here during the 2009 Smithsonian Folklife Festival's run.

Now I've had a taste of their jarred mint sauce (available for sale in a nearby tent) and laverbread (described as "seaweed, like nori but in a cow-pat shape"), picked out some salmon dishes to make from their festival cookbook, and tasted a cawl made with lamb and lots of leeks and the killer Welsh whiskey sauce being served over ice cream at the Welsh concession stand.

The five Welshmen (and technically one Argentinian) you see above are thrilled to be cooking for crowds and the various dinners and teas at the Welsh Embassy over the next few weeks. They are warm and friendly master cooks and chefs, some of whom have several cookbooks and television cooking shows to their credit. They couldn't bring over their own lovely lamb and produce but have relied on experienced festival hands to lay in lots of local produce and find a few Welsh cheeses sold in America.

When you visit the cookery demonstration tent, just across from the Museum of Natural History, you'll see that the cooks and chefs have planted a small herb garden just beneath and to the side of the stage, which they intend to make good use of. A stove, two refrigerators, a freezer and some work tables were already buzzing just behind the stage area, which is decorated with shelves stocked with ingredients and books a typical Welsh home might have. (The shelves are made from recycled plastic, they were proud to point out.)

Chefs Hazel Thomas and Gareth Johns, collaborating in their behind-the-scenes kitchen. (photos by Bonnie Benwick -- The Washington Post)

What ingredients or utensils did they absolutely have to have with them?

Gareth Johns: "My taste library, which I conveniently keep in my head."

Angela Gray: "Two tins of laverbread, six jars of award-winning Welsh lemon curd and four tubs of flavored sea salts: vanilla, smoked, spiced and celery." (Flavored salts are also for sale at the Marketplace tent nearby.)

Hazel Thomas: "FOUR tins of laverbread and two pots of Welsh mint sauce; also, loads of cookbooks including 'The Physicians of Myddfai,' that has much information about herbs in it."

Ana Rees: "Torta Negra Galesa," which they described as a Christmas pudding combined with Bara Brith (Welsh tea bread).

Anthony Evans (an easygoing, cerebral type): "My knowledge of cooking Welsh game."

Geraldine Trotman: "My Caribbean influence." (So look for spices and chili peppers in some of her dishes.)

Here's hoping you'll be able to engage them in conversation after their demos. The cooks/chefs had much to say about the state of nutrition in Wales, the food scene there (yes, there is a proud one) and their country's True Taste awards, dubbed "the Oscars for food," in which producers' goods are judged by some of Wales's top chefs. Gareth Johns is headed back to Cardiff for final judging in early July, in fact.

Signs point to good food inside. Don't miss the Penderyn whiskey sauce over ice cream.

Flanagan's Harp and Fiddle of Bethesda was tasked to cook for the Welsh concessions stand. Co-owner Mac Tigue told us that during yesterday's soft opening, the Glamorgan sausages were a smash hit. They are vegetarian, made with leeks, Welsh cheese, bread crumbs, onion, mustard and a little egg. Angela Gray said some of the festival organizers had tried to second-guess calling them "sausages" and suggested "cheese dogs" instead. Thankfully, that did not pass muster.

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  June 24, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
 | Tags: Bonnie Benwick  
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Great post. I wish I could be there.

Posted by: davemarks | June 24, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

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