STYLE

Foraging in the wild experiences revival among chefs, home cooks and foodies

07/11/2013 10:00 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 05:12 EDT
VICTORIA - Picking wild berries has long been a Canadian pastime, but a renewed interest in foraging is taking customers out of the grocery aisle and into the woods.

Chef Bill Jones began foraging as a way to supplement the dehydrated meals he took with him backpacking and mountain climbing. Since then Jones has begun inviting the public up to Deerholme Farm in Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island for workshops on foraging.

"We forage all year round. It's all very seasonal," he said. "In the spring we collect lots of greens. In the winter time, we do bigleaf maple syrup. We're in a pretty fortunate climate here, so we get maybe a week of snow, so it is possible to forage all year round on Vancouver Island."

Jones said foraging has recently experienced a revival because of influential restaurants like Copenhagen's Noma, which has been ranked best in the world by Restaurant magazine.

The predominance of foraged items on the Noma menu has inspired chefs around the world and, according to Jones, this has had an impact on home cooks and foodies.

"Foraging is very trendy right now for chefs, and for the general public it kind of spills off from that," he said. "They see the foraged items on menus and are interested in the foraging aspect. These are skills we've kind of lost and we want to reintroduce those into their lives."

While chefs like Jones and Les Jardins Sauvage's Nancy Hinton have seen an increased interest in foraging, Hinton said it is still a niche market.

Hinton began working at Les Jardins Sauvage in St-Roch de L'Achigan, Que., after being introduced to wild products by Francois Brouillard, Hinton's partner in business and life.

"(Brouillard) was the first to put them on menus in Quebec. No one really knew there were wild mushrooms and a lot of these wild greens in Quebec until 20 years ago," said Hinton.

"He was a conventional farmer at the time who just sold wild products on the side because it was a part of his tradition. It was normal to have fiddleheads and ramps when they were in season."

After a few Quebec chefs like Normand Laprise of Toque! in Montreal discovered the local wild products and began to build menus around them, Brouillard began to shift to selling completely wild products.

"(Brouillard) was ahead of his time, but it's been a constant struggle because it is super labour intensive and it is not very profitable," said Hinton.

"You follow nature and it is hard to construct a business around that, but now people are into cooking and food adventures so our business is a little bit of all of that."

Les Jardins Sauvage has grown to incorporate a line of more than 100 products made with wild ingredients, a market, workshops and dinners.

But while many of these products are available in the backyard and according to both Hinton and Jones contain various nutritional benefits, Jones said foragers need to be aware of where they are collecting their products.

"With wild products it is a double-edged sword because wild products are prone to contamination from pollution for example," said Jones.

"I like to say that foraging for wild foods forces you to be an environmentalist because you have to look around and see what the conditions are around the plants, such as urban activities and roads.

"You really have to seek out places that are unpolluted and uncontaminated."

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