January 17, 2019
by Jennifer Dawson

Foraged Foods Becoming Commonplace in US Restaurants

Food trends are some of the fastest-changing in the world. In 2018 alone chefs have had to contend with everything from pickling, fermenting and veganism to nootropics, booze-free beverages and homemade condiments. Another trend that is becoming more commonplace across the globe is foraging which may sound suspiciously similar to hunting-gathering but does not entail giving up your day job to live in the wilderness.

Although it is true that a few chefs have been using foraged produce for decades, it has now become a food trend rather than a rarity. In fact, an increasing number of chefs in the USA are making regular use of foraged ingredients to set their menus apart from their competitors’. In order to have a better understanding of the role of foraging within the restaurant industry, it is important to take a closer look at how and why to include foraged ingredients on a menu as well as examining the increasing popularity of the trend.

Reasons to include foraged food on your menu

By searching for fruit, vegetables, herbs, and roots in the wild yourself (or by making use of a professional foraging service) you will be able to offer your patrons a unique dining experience and simultaneously contribute towards the well-being of the environment. Not only are indigenous crops generally more drought-resistant but your carbon footprint will also be significantly reduced due to there being a very short traveling distance between the farm and the restaurant. Foraged produce also contain significantly more nutrients as they tend to be less exposed to harmful chemicals than their commercially-farmed counterparts.

Cooking with foraged food

Dewberries Foraging Seasonal ChartThere are countless ways in which you can prepare your foraged foods and present them to your diners. On a colder day, you can prepare a fragrant slow-cooked dish or gather your pots and pans and make a delicious wintery broth filled with freshly-foraged vegetables and herbs. As a chef you are more than qualified to create tantalizing dishes using an array of foraged ingredients including wild mushrooms, nettles, sorrel, squash blossoms, and goosetongue. Don’t limit yourself to conventional cooking either as you can create delicious syrups, sauces, pickles, and condiments such as fennel sauerkraut, elderberry syrup, green onion kimchi, and walnut ketchup from your foraged produce.

How popular has foraging become?

There are a number of restaurants across the USA that have actively incorporated foraged food into their offerings. Chef Eddy Leroux of Restaurant Daniel in New York works closely with a professional forager to acquire wild shoots, stems, leaves and petals to create mind-blowing dishes such as wild herb ravioli and dandelion flower tempura.  Another chef who frequently makes use of foraged ingredients is Dan Barber from Blue Hill Stone Barns, also in New York, who went as far as to start his own seed company to ensure that he always has access to the freshest produce. He also has his team of chefs forage for ingredients and allows his geese to forage for figs, lupin bush seeds and acorns instead of force-feeding them.

And on Lummi Island in Washington Chef Blaine Wetzel at the Willows Inn has gained an impressive reputation for having his staff forage for local greens, berries, mushrooms, and seaweed as well as growing much of his produce.

Finding foraged products

As noble as it may be to forage for your own ingredients, it is not always practical. This is exactly why there are an increasing number of vendors offering their foraging services across the USA. While most states are home to a number of fresh produce markets that sell foraged produce, there are also numerous online stores that can be utilized for your convenience. Foraged & Found is an organization that supplies a number of the country’s most renowned restaurants as well as countless home cooks with foraged berries, wild greens, mushrooms and tea. Apart from having an online store, they also sell their produce at various markets in and around Seattle.  If you find yourself on the East Coast, you can enlist the services of Regalis Foods who pride themselves on their exquisite variety of foraged ingredients.

Seasonal foraging

One of the most important factors to consider when making use of foraged foods is their seasonality. While there are certain edibles such as mushrooms that are available year-round, others, including persimmons, chestnuts and asparagus are a lot more seasonal and are only available fresh during certain parts of the year. If you want to include foraged foods on your menu it is imperative to be very knowledgeable with regards to the seasonal availability of your local foraged produce. You can benefit greatly by printing out a foraging calendar or visiting a reputable online site that can supply you with accurate and relevant information.

Flavor profiles of foraged foods

While it has already been determined that foraged foods are more nutrient-dense than their store-bought counterparts, it is important to also understand the differences (and similarities) in flavor profiles. Wild watercress, for example, is known to have a lot more flavor than the supermarket variety while salmonberries can be most closely compared to gooseberries and raspberries. If you are looking for a foraged substitute to onion and garlic, you can make use of three-cornered leeks which has a very similar taste profile. Wild plantains look a lot like regular bananas but have a firmer texture that is quite starchy. When ripe they are sweet in flavor and can be prepared in a similar fashion as regular supermarket bananas. These are just a few examples of foraged foods and how they compare to commercially-purchased produce. The best way to draw similar comparisons is to either experiment yourself or to conduct further research on the topic.

Always remember to be safe while foraging. Don’t trespass on private property and make sure everything you bring back to the restaurant is, in fact, edible. If you can adhere to these basic guidelines your foraging can give you a nifty competitive advantage while presenting you with the opportunity to put your dish creativity skills to the test.

 

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