From the earliest recorded history, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers who foraged for their foodstuffs.
Centuries later, we’ve come full circle and chefs are getting back in touch with their ancestral roots through the practice of foraging to create flavorful culinary dishes served to patrons who prize freshness, local ingredients, and seasonal dishes.
“I love having that element of surprise in my dishes, and wild edibles offer this as there’s so many flavors that come out of them,” says Whitney Flood, chef of Muddy Leek in Culver City, California. “Sour grass has a lemony quality that can replace zest in a dish, while nasturtium leaves are peppery and fresh.”
And, most notably, he says there is a delicate quality to foraged food that is unique to geographic location and environmental setting.
At Muddy Leek—where sustainable, local, organic products are the order of the day—the focus is on bringing the freshest ingredients to the table. And for creating flavorful seasonal dishes, Flood is a strong believer in allowing ingredients to speak for themselves.
As part of his repertoire, Flood forages based on what’s in season. “Right now [late February], I’m looking for little tender greens and starts that are coming up.” Wild fennel including fronds, seeds, pollen, and stalks are excellent with many uses throughout the season.
But his golden prize is the hunt for chanterelles. “I love chanterelles! The earthy, oaky flavor, meaty mouthfeel, and sheer enjoyment of finding them keep me constantly searching.”
But not all foraging is done by chefs. There is a unique group of individuals who make their living foraging for chefs and restaurant owners.
Valerie Broussard, food and beverage buyer and forager, works for Trace restaurant in the W Hotel, a silver LEED-certified hotel, in Austin, Texas.
Broussard’s foraging consists of seeking out local and sustainable foods, developing relationships with food purveyors, and gathering forecasts from area farmers in order to inform chefs on availability of products.
She explains, “I am an extension of the chef and can be out in the community, inquiring about who has what, and when and how we can get it into the restaurant.”
Her regular stops include in-town farmers’ markets, as well as Boggy Creek and Springdale Farms farm stands.