I am pretty sure most of you are aware of one of the latest culinary trends: foraging. Maybe I shouldn’t call this act of harvesting edible, wild growing plants and fungi a “new trend”. Humans have been foragers for most of the history of our species. However, industrialization and modernism have accustomed us to get our vegetables and fruits from commercial agriculture (and cans, boxes, frozen packages). We have lost knowledge about how to use plants surrounding us to our advantage.
Wild foragers attempt several things (limited list):
1) Promote an auto-sustainable way of life
2) Preserve and recapture traditional knowledge about local edibles
3) Promote healthy eating habits
Recently, magazines and TV shows have been featuring common people and culinary experts involved in this movement.
Since I have read a lot about foraging, a local deal offering a “Gourmet Foraging Sunset Experience” caught my attention. It took me like 2 seconds to book after seeing the beautiful company’s website.
The geniuses behind the “experience” are Mia Wasilevich and Pascal Baudar. They have created a company called Transitional Gastronomy “as a response to friends, family and fellow wild food foragers’ curiosity about their passion for exploring local wild foods and creating gourmet cuisine using transitional methods”.
Pascal forages the food (he is an outdoor/self-reliance instructor). Mia creates the dishes (she is a self-taught chef). Together, they work magic. The knowledge they share is sustained by years of research. The dishes prepared are creative, delicious and surprising.
I am sorry if I use clichés or superlatives to describe my experience with them (a no-no for writers). Every dish, from the presentation to the taste, blew my mind. I felt like I was eating at a Michelin starred restaurant. If you want to have an unforgettable experience, maybe it is time to meet with Pascal and Mia.
We met Pascal, Mia and other wild food enthusiasts at Hahamonga Watershed Park in Pasadena. After introductions, Pascal took us for a one hour walk. While we were discovering the wonders obviated by many, Mia was preparing the food.
This short walk was an eye opener. It was amusing to discover so many edible plants in less than 2 miles. Here is a sample of what we Pascal showed us (and made us taste):
Wild Passion Fruit – To me, the goey stuff surrounding the seeds taste nothing like an actual passion fruit. My husband said the flavor reminded him of the granadilla (another fruit related to passion fruit and popular in El Salvador).
Black Nightshade – The leaves and berries of this plant are edible. In El Salvador, the plant is called mora. Soups and even pupusas are made of the leaves (tastes ok but not my favorite). The berries taste like tomatoes. However, they are toxic when eaten unripe.
Cattail – The underground stems are edible (tastes like cucumber). The pollen can be collected too.
Lambsquarters – Used as a pseudocereal and leaf vegetable. Its flowering shoots are also edible.
Curly Dock – The seeds are used to make flour.
Figs – This are mainly used in the Mediterranean and Middle East regions. However, they are well known in America.
Acorns – Many cultures (including Greeks, Japanese and Native Americans) have eaten the seeds throughout history.
Wild Radish – Edible long green pods with crisp and peppery flavors. They are considered an invasive species in Southern California.
Epazote – The leaves are popular in Mexico. They are believed to prevent the flatulence produced by eating beans.
We also learned about some toxic plants such as the poisonous oak and angel’s trumpet.
When we reunited with Mia, we found a table arranged with a two-tone tablecloth and a simple, yet elegant centerpiece. These guys pay attention to every single detail.
What came next was the best part of the experience. Every dish was executed with great skill. Each element added a layer of flavor to what was presented (no flat dishes in here).
Here is what we had for the menu in Mia’s own words (taken from her Facebook page).
Amuse: Lambsquarter & sage seed crackers, foraged figs brulee and cured CA black walnut sauce, burrata, pickled gingered yucca
Soup: Garlic cream with Lambsquarter essence
First: Bitter lettuce cup with foraged watercress, purslane, puffed black rice, watercress crema and elderberry balsamic redux
Second: Mini-rabbit timbales with sage custard and caramelized cippolini, toasted sage seeds
Main: Quail confit in duck fat, dandelion sauté, carrot and celeriac puree and sticky nightshade glaze
Dessert: Goat milk cheesecake with burnt sugar and wild passion fruit compote, toasted acorn crust
As you can see, throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pan to get something. Each ingredient is prepared using a different technique before being added to the dish. I don’t know where they get so many ideas but the results are masterpieces. I urge you to check their website to get a better idea of their professionalism level.
Additionally, we loved this experience because it reminded us of our countries. In Puerto Rico and El Salvador, people are more inclined to pick a fruit from a tree or gather herbs from the backyard to add to a stew. We got this desire to replicate what we used to eat in our kitchen.
What else can I say? I need to have another experience like this soon. I am already dreaming about my next encounter with wild foods.
Check out the website: http://www.transitionalgastronomy.com/
Have you experienced wild foods? Let me know in the comments section below.