For the past two weeks we have been hard at work revamping and refitting the kitchen at Forager HQ and today it got its first use when a team of chefs from the HIX group came down for a day of experimentation.
Our kitchen has three main purposes: it is used as a production kitchen to make batches of our wild products such as lactofermented ramsons or our various wild pickles; it is a research and development space where we can test out ideas for potential products or uses for fresh ingredients and finally it is a space for us to come together with the chefs who use our produce to put our heads together and have fun trying out ideas.
One major new development in the kitchen is the installation of our wild larder - shelves fully stocked with wild herbs & spices, pickles, vinegars, fermentations, dried seaweeds.
Previously, these products were all spread out across our units and it would take a while to get around and see them all, now we have them easily to hand in the kitchen making one coherent space to explore the full potential of the wild kitchen. Just to really drive the point home; each week our product range is around 200 products and whilst half of this range is made up of freshly picked produce the other half is all produce which we dry, pickle, ferment and otherwise preserve to make wild flavours available all year round.
After a quick round of coffees the day started in the kitchen with a look at all of the current selection of fresh produce laid out and organised by plant family. One bench was completely taken up by the 4 main families at the moment: Cabbage family, Daisy family, Carrot family and Alliums. After an introduction from Miles to the benefits of foraging and how it compares to agriculture in terms of inputs, outputs and effect on the landscape, we went off to put the theory into practice and look for some plant families out in the field. Whilst on the one hand we are always keen to give our guests a sense of wonder at how they are surrounded by food (but they just didn't know it) we also make sure that we instil a reasonable level of concern for getting the right plant and on our walk for every 2 edible plants we found we would cover one of the poisonous or toxic plants. It's always interesting to note as well that the very same families that we introduced only half an hour earlier as providers of most of our well known spices (Carrot family) also gives us some of our most deadly poisons - Hemlock and Hemlock Water Dropwort.
We were pleasantly surprised by the potent offerings of the first of the Lady's Smock Flowers (like a sweet horseradish) and one big breakthrough for me personally was when one of the group likened the taste of raw nettles to cucumber - for me it's moments like that when the combined knowledge from two different disciplines (chefs & foragers) come together that are the real magic in what we do. With just a few extra ingredients bagged we went back to the unit to get creative in the kitchen...
The chefs turned out some really amazing dishes with a really high level of engagement with the wild produce on offer - the only rule was to use at least one preserved wild ingredient in every dish which was easily met and surpassed; other than the meat that the Hix team brought along (which was mostly wild anyway) it was a completely wild feast!
Highlights of the day for me were the Alexanders Stems with Wood Ants (which we might have to call 'AlexAnters')
and the pigeon salad which was glazed with pickled wild damsons and cooked on the barbecue - wonderful smoky flavour.
It's always very satisfying to have a day with our customers and to bring the two halves of the equation together. For all of us at Forager it's important to get to see the ingredients that we harvest put into context so that we get to see them go from the fields, hedgerows and seashores to how they finish up on the plate. Equally, whenever chefs come to see us they express how important it is for them to see the plants in their context in the natural environment so that they become more than simply ingredients which turn up in a box.