I’m really happy to announce our first Totally Wild UK, wild food, kitchen is set to open in Macclesfield in February 2017. From here we can test new recipes out and cook up our well loved recipes in a clean and professional kitchen.
The wild food kitchen will give us the opportunity to really get to grips with our explorations of abundant wild foods. It will give us the platform to create and hand produce our ever increasing range.
As well as our regular range we will test new and exciting things out in this kitchen so expect to see lots of weird and wonderful information being posted regularly on our social media and through our site here.
As part of a larger art project called ‘the lost gardens of Stoke-On-Trent’ I was invited along to conduct a weekends worth of foraging and wild food exploration of these Lost Gardens. I had a large number of ideas for the weekend but eventually settled on this:
- Friday – A full day of foraging and cooking where a group are introduced to the potential of foraging food from the lost gardens, ending with an outdoor three course meal cooked up by all the groups participants
- Saturday – a day of short introduction to wild flavours walks to accompany the other short events taking place through the weekend
- Sunday – a sit down four course wild food lunch where the weekends participants help me with the foraging and cooking (to help develop and promote independent foraging)
The weekend was cracking, we found over 40 edible species on our site and one of them was hops – which I really wasn’t expecting to find suspended from one of the bridges we crossed. Starting with introducing the abundance of wild edibles to a group on Friday to sitting (or standing) to a full four course meal on the Sunday where we enjoyed:
- Burdock root soup and speared dock bread
- Wild Salad Cleanser
- Oven baked Beef with horse raddish mash and hawthorn berry chutney
- Elderflower and rosehip cheesecake
- Wild teas and coffees
The meal was one of the first on that scale (30 seats) I’d done and I was surprised how smoothly the whole affair went, since we were actually cooking outdoors as well. The food was delicious and I can’t wait to do some more events like this!
Wild Food has become a bit of a fad word within the chef world and I’m forever seeing it on cooking programmes, which, in one way, is absolutely brilliant because wild food is becoming more common and more normal to use, but in another way it worries me slightly that it is just becoming a fad.
By using a handful of wild garlic (which could actually be cultivated?) in my food, is it now a wild food inspired meal – if you were a beginner in foraging I would definitely say so, I would also be excited that you’ve started to find the confidence to go out picking. But if it’s a restaurant or a chef do I think differently – I’m not too sure. I’m slightly in two minds about it – of course it’s great that wild foods are getting on to the menu but are they being harvested sustainably and collected safely (you really wouldn’t want to get a lords and ladies leaf mixed in there).
Aside to that – It’s actually quite extraordinary what some chefs are doing with wild foods and is definitely inspirational to see and hear of some concoctions that are being introduced through wild food. Deep fried and candied nettles being served on meadowsweet ice cream sounds absolutely delicious – and I bet looks quite nice as well. I think the key to this is to find chefs who are really excited about exploring wild foods, but are also willing to engage in the foraging relationship that comes with harvesting wild ingredients.
I actually took a number of chefs out on a forage recently and had a great time – what was specifically interesting for me was discussing the vast amount of ways the ingredients we were finding could potentially be used. I’d never thought of making a rose flower vinaigrette as a mid meal palette cleanser. It was a fabulous opportunity for us all as a group to learn together, discuss ideas and start to put recipes together for future cooking. I hope to see more wild foods on their menu soon.
Towards the end of the summer this year I was asked to meet a Hen party as they were making a trip via canal barge for a night out.
There was a number of options we could have done:
- Met them by a local wood and taken them off the barge to explore the woods for a forage, where we could make up a wild lunch.
- Meet them on the barge to discover what’s growing all around the canal as we venture further on the barge, collecting eating and cooking along the way.
- A mass variation on these….
Finally, due to time and weather on the day, we decided to meet on the barge and stay on board whilst jumping off every so often to collect and taste some interesting wild ingredients.
Over the hours I cooked up a wild food inspired lunch for them to enjoy in the warmth and dry of the barge, until the weather cleared and I persuaded them off the barge with the promise of collecting ingredients for our wild cocktails. We departed the barge and headed down the canal to discover what wild infusions we could incorporate in to our fresh wild inspired cocktails. We found a huge range or botanicals and made a number of cocktails back on the barge. My favourite was definitely the beech leaf gin and fresh Mugwort concoction we crafted – it was delicious – and if I wasn’t driving home I would have definitely stuck around to sink a couple of them with the group.
As we parted ways at the next canal bridge I left the group with their third bottle of Elder Flower Sparkling wine and half a bottle of Beech Leaf Gin to see them through to arriving at their destination.
A brilliant and fun day!
I was asked to help out on one of the summer NCS (National Citizen Service) programmes this year. A brilliant programme running over four weeks that takes teenagers of all walks of life and capabilities out of their comfort zones and gets them interacting with their local communities in a positive way. I believe there’s a number of goals that the programme aims to achieve and one of them is to set the participants up with different ideas on which direction their future might take them.
With that in mind I’ve been asked over the past couple of years to attend and run an introduction to foraging session for over 200 students a day, obviously we split them in to lots of smaller groups (around 20-30 in each) and stagger the sessions so that everyone gets a go.
It’s great to explain to the groups what it is exactly that I do as a ‘job’ – a full time forager – usually they don’t understand to start with – but by the end of the session I hope not only are there eyes opened to foraging but also to the potential and massive range of directions their life might take them, work wise. I often get members of the group asking to be apprentices, although I’ve yet to take any of them up on their offers. However in the future I will more than likely jump at the opportunity.
Over the day we had almost everyone making and cooking up their very own nettle soup and over 90% of them actually tried it and liked it. We also made nettle fibre wrist bands and played a number of plant based games which went down well.
I love working with this age group as I believe it can sometimes be a massive eye opener to all the students, but specifically to those that don’t enjoy more academic studies. I’m always amazed with how much some of them already know (mainly thanks to the computer game ‘mine craft’ where you make things from the materials you pick up.
Who knew that the edges of the sea could be so bountiful, recently I’ve spent a lot of time over the coasts close (not really that close) to where I live investigating the abundance and potential uses that seaweeds could play in my regular day to day cooking. I must admit that I found a lot more than I first expected; from a classic deep fried crispy green seaweed (ulva) – like the stuff we usually get from the Chinese take-away, to the deep and totally unexpected flavour of the sea truffle (pepper dulse) which hits you with bags of umami and a sharp spicy note. – I imagine made in to a paste it would go perfectly with a pork loin.
There’s so much to explore with seaweeds that I almost feel a little overwhelmed – it’s something I will have to continue over the coming years…
After meeting with the Vegetarian Society a number of times I’m really excited that we’ve arranged to run a number of wild food foraging and cookery classes from their site in Cheshire over the coming years. It promises to be great and I absolutely love working with cookery schools – we get the opportunity as a group to use our wild food harvest to create tasty meals that participants can actually imagine themselves cooking at home.
Before getting the gig – so to speak – I was asked to come down to the cookery school and demonstrate a range of wild food inspired dishes that we might cook up on one of our courses there. I decided to focus on a simple wild food ingredient that pretty much everyone can safely identify, because we’d be lying if we said we’ve not all be stung by one at some time. That’s right ‘Stinging Nettles’ – when it comes to food this plant is actually surprisingly versatile and through the session we used it to create everything from smoothies to purees, wilted mash, bread and even lattes (and we barely even touched the surface of things you could make with it)
Our courses will be on their site very soon: Vegetarian Society Site
I love being included in the RHS Flower Shows Feast Theatre when they take over the fields at Tatton Park, we have a proper stage, head sets and TV’s – it’s like being on a live version of Sunday Brunch. I imagine to some it could seem really stressful but I like to prepare very little, cook simple food with delicious wild ingredients and generally have a good time. I feel like the more I have fun whilst cooking the more an audience can get excited about cooking with wild foods as well. Of course I don’t have the time to go in to a huge amount of detail about the wild ingredients we’re using, but that’s fine because anyone who’s interested in that can stay after and ask questions or join me on a days foraging adventure.
I’d love to do more live cooking in the future and get more people intreagued in the potential uses wild food can play in our daily diets. I will be back there again next year cooking up tasty meals!
Through this weekend I decided to cook a starter, main and dessert over the three days we were on stage:
Starter: Classic Nettle Soup
Main: Nettle Pasta with Wild Greens and Sardines
Dessert: Roasted Dandelion Root Coffee Cake
I’ve decided to begin documenting the events, thoughts, ideas and any other interesting things I get up to through this blog, I will begin writing regular up dates through the winter of 2016 and continue to do so throughout 2017…