More and more, chefs are leaving the kitchen to seek out ingredients not only from local farms or their own gardens, but from the wilderness around them. The rise of the ancient art of foraging is an unlikely plot twist in the story of gastronomy, but it’s one winding up restaurants worldwide.
IF THE TALE OF “INTO THE WILD” taught us anything, it was that foraging was a bad idea. But if you go about it correctly, it can be very fruitful, as chefs around the world are discovering. The wild edible plants – the vegetables and leafy greens – that you’ll discover foraging in nature are more nutritious than their cultivated counterparts and are as fresh and organic a food source as you’ll find.
Complimentary gifts from nature, they are often highly valued as delicacies, allowing diners to truly taste the region and connecting the forager to the earth, creating a world more in harmony with nature.
FORAGERS IN ACTION FROM SOUTH AFRICA TO THE UNITED STATES
“Foraging is a trendy word these days,” says Michael Deg, head chef of Delaire Graff in the Cape Winelands of South Africa. “During mushroom season, my chefs love picking wild mushrooms and return with buckets full of them. I love nothing more than when one of the chefs comes to work with a big bag of freshly foraged nasturtium, a firm favorite of mine. Chefs will continue to strive for fresh and healthy cuisine, because customers want natural products.”
CHRISTOPHER KOSTOW, chef of The Restaurant at Meadowood believes it is a chef’s responsibility to use the bounty of the land around them – a concept he has integrated into his three-Michelin-star restaurant in California’s Napa Valley.
“I had always looked at foraging as a really silly thing,” Kostow says, “as guys in white coats running around saying, ‘Oh look, I found some wood sorrel!’ But for us in the valley, the stuff is everywhere. There’s even wild fennel growing on the side of the highway! We’ve embraced it and allowed it to drive some menu thoughts.”
IN THE SPRING AND SUMMER MONTHS, Loic Leperlier, executive chef at The Point in Saranac Lake, New York, heads out to see what ingredients lay in wait on the 75-acre property – once a Rockefeller family retreat. Guests often join him on the estate, in search of produce such as morels and fiddlehead ferns, and then in the kitchen, to transform their findings into dishes.
“The wild edible plants you’ll discover foraging in nature allow diners to truly taste the region.”
THIS HANDS-ON STARTER to the greater art of foraging can also be experienced at Flocons de Sel, in Mégève in the French Alps, with three-Michelin-starred chef (and hunter, gatherer and gardener), Emmanuel Renaut.
Roam the mountainside and forest paths with Renaut to search for the mushrooms and herbs that will later play their hand in the cuisine of the day.