Chefs Are Going Back to Their Roots for Local, Sustainable Foraged Foods

Food and Agriculture

Chefs around the world are using foraged ingredients to add exciting, fresh and eco-friendly flavors to their menus. By searching for herbs, fruits and roots from the wild, they create fresh, flavorful dishes. They also champion sustainable practices, indigenous produce and a sense of adventure. Ultimately, these foraging chefs bring diners unique experiences closer to nature.

Global food systems are trending towards industrialization and a homogenization of diets. As a result, there is almost no limit to where ingredients are available. When Indian mangoes are in New York grocery stores in the middle of winter, it can be easy for consumers to lose their connection to where food is grown.

Foraging, by contrast, can spark a deeply personal connection with the earth. “It was only until I started looking for my own food … that I had started to understand that everything in nature was cyclical, everything interrelated,” says Ava Chin, in her memoir Eating Wildly.

Chefs who forage ingredients are changing the ways restaurants operate. Fickle, time-sensitive wild ingredients require extra creativity and care. “Whatever the arrangement, a focus on foraging has brought a new element of procuring and planning to restaurant kitchens,” wrote Jessica Ferri and Alison Tozzi Liu of the James Beard Foundation. Some restaurants even employ professional foragers or procurement companies. This has made the foraging profession quite competitive.

Food Tank is excited to highlight 18 chefs from around the world who are celebrating local and seasonal landscapes by serving foraged ingredients.

1. Darina Allen, Ballymaloe, Ireland

Allen issues a warning to budding foragers: “Beware; once you get on the foraging groove it becomes totally addictive.” She encourages students to find and prepare food for themselves, a task made easier by the nearby Cork coastline overflowing with sea vegetables, shellfish and seaweeds. In summer, the surrounding fields hold wild leaves, herbs and flowers, and autumn brings mushrooms to Ballymaloe. Even the walls surrounding the gardens produce pennyworth and pineapple weeds, delicious additions to a meal.

2. Alex Atala, O.M., Brazil

Atala’s São Paolo restaurant is dedicated to Brazilian and Amazonian cultural heritage. His familiar dishes with Brazilian twists push boundaries. His fettucine and prawns, for example, uses thinly sliced and lightly fried hearts of palm instead of pasta. Atala hopes that he will be able to impact traditional crops and local growers on a grand scale. His Instituto Atá, an organization connecting people more closely to food and nature, is working on this. Among other projects, Instituto Atá has created a new food label, Retratos do Gosto (Portraits of Taste), to support small producers in Brazil.

3. Karlos Baca, Taste of Native Cuisine, Colorado, U.S.

Baca is a chef and activist creating dishes that highlight indigenous ingredients and draw from Native American traditions. The majority of Baca’s ingredients come from wherever he is cooking. He even forgoes white flour, sugar and dairy in favor of ingredients closer to his heritage. For instance, blue cornmeal, sweet potato, elk, wild mushrooms and chokecherries are familiar items on his menus. Baca is the first to say that foraging is more than a trend. For Native Americans, he said, “This is how we existed always.”

4. Dan Barber, Blue Hill Stone Barns, New York, U.S.

Barber’s acclaimed New York restaurant is known for its use of exquisite produce. Barber works with expert seed growers and travels extensively to find it. He even started his own seed company, Row 7, to ensure that he has access to the best produce. Barber also searches the nearby woods surrounding the 80 acres of farmland at Blue Hill Stone Barns for nuts and herbs. Not only do Barber’s chefs forage for ingredients, but so do his geese. Rather than force-feed grain to geese to fatten their livers for fois gras, Barber allows the geese to forage for figs, acorns and lupin bush seeds.

5. Rayleen Brown, Kungkas Can Cook, Australia

Brown founded the catering company and shop Kungkas Can Cook in January 2000. She has been a well-loved purveyor of Australian bushfood-inspired bites ever since. Brown is Aboriginal and many of her flavors come from her nomadic upbringing. For her business, she sources 100 percent of her bush foods from local women foragers. Brown’s menus vary based on the foraged products that come in, riding rhythms of the land and seasons. Wattleseed pancakes and camel burger with lemon myrtle tzatziki are two of the menu items at the shop, and are characteristic of Brown’s style of blending familiar foods with foraged twists.

6. Chris Erasmus, Foliage, South Africa

Foliage’s menu follows a field-to-fork ethos rooted in wild foods from the forests and hedgerows of South Africa’s Western Cape. Inspired by his time working at Noma in Copenhagen, Erasmus opened Foliage to experiment with foraging and preservation methods. Menu items such as passionfruit parfait with lactic berries, rose petals and kombucha sparkle with foraged ingredients and varied techniques.

7. Patrick Hamilton, Sonoma County Mushroom Association Wild Mushroom Camp, California, U.S.

Hamilton may be better known by his nickname, Mycochef. A mushroom foraging veteran of over 40 years, he both cooks mushrooms and introduces them to the masses. On Hamilton’s walks, foragers can learn to identify porcini, golden chanterelles, dyers’ mushrooms and more. He is an active educator of ForageSF, a San Francisco-based community, and is an avid columnist. Mushrooms are one of the most dangerous foods to forage, but Hamilton demonstrates that anyone can find them safely and with a sense of humor.

8. Jeong Kwan, Baekyangsa Temple, South Korea

Kwan is a zen-Buddhist nun living and cooking in the Baekyangsa temple, 169 miles from Seoul. Her food is completely vegan and is not meant to be craved so much as relished as it is eaten. To develop flavors, Kwan crafts ingredients such as gochujang (fermented chili paste), soy sauce and kimchi over the course of years. She also harvests each of her ingredients from a temple garden and the forest it blends into.

9. Eddy Leroux, Restaurant Daniel, New York, U.S.

Leroux, chef de cuisine at Restaurant Daniel, works with forager Tama Matsuoka Wong to find wild shoots, leaves, stems and petals. Their partnership began on a night that Wong came to dine at the restaurant. On a whim, she had brought along a handful of anise hyssop. Leroux incorporated the sprigs into her meal and, excited at his success, began to welcome bags of nettles, rose thorns and more from Wong. Leroux delights that the foraged ingredients grow untouched by pesticides or humans and accepts the challenge of crafting recipes around items that are only available for mere days out of the year. Some of his most accessible recipes, like dandelion flower tempura or wild herb ravioli, can now be found in Leroux and Wong’s book, Foraged Flavor.

10. Jude Mayall, OutbackChef, Australia

OutbackChef is a leading supplier of Australian bush herbs, spices and fruits. Jude Mayall is the founder, CEO and main chef behind both the business and The Outback Chef, a cookbook showcasing native Australian foods. She works closely with foragers, local farmers and indigenous communities to source products. When she first started, Mayall says, “no one wanted to know” about indigenous Australian flavors. Though they were tainted by stigma for decades, Mayall’s work to provide these foods and tell their stories has catalyzed a wave of new acceptance of Australian native plants, indigenous cultures and foraged ingredients.

11. Doug McMaster, Silo, England

At this zero-waste restaurant, guests will not find a single trash can on the premises. What they will find are foraged foods, upcycled supplies and even foraged furniture. “In nature, there is no waste,” explains McMaster. Every element of the restaurant strives to remain close to the pre-industrial food system. Chefs mill fresh flour and churn butter in buckets outside the back door. Every Tuesday, they venture into the surrounding Sussex countryside and ocean to collect herbs and sea plants.

12. Magnus Nilsson, Fäviken, Sweden

Four hundred and sixty miles north of Stockholm, Fäviken chefs use only these ingredients: salt, sugar, alcoholic vinegar and food from the restaurant’s 20,000 acre grounds.. Every day a handful of the restaurant chefs forage for moss, herbs, grasses, mushrooms, flowers and seeds. Nilsson’s locavore philosophy means that products like chocolate are off limits, but that does not stop him from serving his famous lupin seed faux chocolate. In it, lupin seeds are fermented to create a curd similar to silken tofu.

13. Wojciech Modest Amaro, Atelier Amaro, Poland

While many restaurants serve seasonal dishes, Modest Amaro takes this idea further than most. Instead of seasons, he divides his menu into 52 calendar weeks so that he can incorporate the freshest foraged ingredients from the countryside and his garden. Modest Amaro’s dishes also follow three different themes, or spirits. In spirit of time dishes, all ingredients are harvested within one week; for spirit of place, the food not only comes from one week but also only one of Poland’s natural habitats. The last, spirit of tradition, is usually invoked in winter. The components of these dishes have been smoked, dried, salted, fermented, pickled or burned.

14. Jocelyn Myers-Adams, Camissa Brasserie, South Africa

Myers-Adams brings new meaning to the concept of street food by foraging for ingredients close to city pavement. Her Cape Town restaurant located in the Table Bay hotel is surrounded by sidewalks, jogging trails and rail beds that are rich with wild ingredients like dune spinach, figs and hibiscus. Myers-Adams embarks on a foraging walk each morning and welcomes guests to join her, then help prepare and enjoy a feast of the items they find.

15. Hisoto Nakahigashi, Miyamasou, Japan

Each morning, Nakahigashi combs the forest and river around his ryokin, or Japanese inn, for fresh ingredients. He uses them to create his two-Michelin-starred restaurant’s evening kaiseki meal, as his family has done for generations. Kaiseki is an exquisite dining experience lingering across many small courses, which encompasses both a menu and the surrounding atmosphere. Nakahigashi’s foraged ingredients blend Miyamasou’s dining room with the world outside. Delicacies such as fresh flowers, mushrooms and wild bear add to a carefully crafted experience rooted in the mountains.

16. Rene Redzepi, Noma 2.0, Denmark

If foraging has become trendy, it started with Redzepi. Foraged ingredients are at the heart of Redzepi’s work, beginning with his cooking at the former Noma and now, Noma 2.0. Now, they have inspired his his app, Vild Mad (Wild Food), which connects people with nature and landscapes. Each seasonal menu at Noma follows a different theme inspired by wild Nordic ingredients. They feature seafood in winter, fresh vegetables in summer and wild game and forest finds in fall.

17. Ana Roš, Hiša Franko, Slovenia

In 2017, Roš was named World’s Best Female Chef for her innovative Slovenian menu. She chooses ingredients from the restaurant’s garden, local farmers and the surrounding woods. Her team of 10 foragers harvests mushrooms, berries, wild herbs and even plants not traditionally used in cooking. Her dishes are wildly creative: an example is raw scallop and potato topped with a jelly of fermented cabbage water and tangerine granita. Roš’s local foraged ingredients means that they are truly one of a kind.

18. Prateek Sadhu, Masque, India

Sadhu spent 18 months traveling India and exploring regional cuisines before opening his innovative fine dining restaurant. Located in a Mumbai abandoned mill district, Masque serves a 10-course tasting menu. It features Indian ingredients, many of which Sadhu forages himself. He returns to his native district of Kashmir once per month to prepare for menu items such as pumpkin custard and apple served on cinnamon sticks.

19. Ben Shewry, Attica, Australia

At Attica, every member of the staff forages for food each day. By bringing back finds as near as 15 minutes to beginning of service, they achieve peak freshness of ingredients. They are able to showcase local Australian ingredients, such as bunya nuts, yam daisy and marron. They also protect the environment by harvesting sustainably. According to Shewry, “The idea behind it is to sort of manage our environment and use the things that are there … being a chef is more than just about the cooking now.”

20. Virgilio Martínez Véliz, Central, Peru

Driven by seasonality, Véliz’s 17-dish tasting menu explores each corner of Peru’s diverse landscape. Four times per month, a team of seven people forages from the sea to the Amazon and the Andes for indigenous ingredients. On a given trip, they might find edible clay, bacteria, corn, quinoa and herbs. Before the foraged ingredients enter the kitchen, they visit Mater Iniciativa, Véliz’s research center. Here, researchers record their flavor profiles and properties.

21. Poul Andrias Ziska, Koks, Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands are isolated and austere, and Ziska must be creative with the menu at acclaimed restaurant Koks. He asks divers to collect mahogany clams, sea urchins and horse mussels and submerge them in a fjord near the restaurant until it is time to cook. In spring and summer, chefs forage the local area for herbs and flowers, and in autumn, they find mushrooms.

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