Yellow wood sorrel
two off the plant, it can sustain that type
of harvesting. I’ve been encouraging
everyone—including chefs and those who
pick for chefs—to please shift harvesting
to this alternative method, rather than
digging up the entire plant.”
blossomed into a way to bring interesting
things into the kitchen. But working with
wild plants means understanding their
flavor profiles, he warns.
Cohen says he doesn’t know of any chefs
currently using this method, but hopes it
will catch on before the problem worsens
and places like Massachusetts or Vermont
end up like Ontario and Quebec, where
it’s now illegal to gather ramps because of
“Some of the wild stuff out there? There’s
a reason it wasn’t ever cultivated. Edible
means it’s safe to eat. It doesn’t always
mean it tastes good,” says Vestal.
TRAIN THEM UP
For Ben Ford, chef/owner of Ford’s Filling
Station, Culver City, Calif., foraging has
been a lifelong activity, and one he’s happy
to see become fashionable. Customers
come to his restaurant for an off-the-cuff
experience, and often are on the lookout
for unusual ingredients.
KNOW YOUR WILD THINGS
Of course, ramps are just one of
thousands of wild edibles out there.
It also means proceeding with caution.
While Vestal does much of the restaurant’s
foraging himself, he has encouraged the
local farmers he works with to search for
wild edibles on their properties, in addition
to the regular produce orders Vestal places.
He also works with professional foragers
for items such as wild mushrooms.
“We like to challenge the diner in a
different way, and wild edibles fit into that
role,” says Ford.
For chefs just dipping a toe in the foraging
pond, his advice is to start with a few easily
identifiable plants, and to get trained on it.
Beau Vestal, executive chef of New Rivers
in Providence, R.I., a 55-seat creative
rustic American bistro, says he forages
for everything from wild onions, sorrel,
watercress, goosefoot, chamomile, wild
mushrooms, seaweeds and beach peas
to unusual items such as birch barks,
sassafras roots and wild spruce.
“I never buy anything I’m not 100% sure
what it is. I do have two mushroom guys that
I work with that are more knowledgeable
than me, but I’ll make them show me
exactly what it is, and if it’s a species I don’t
recognize, I pass on it,” he says.
“I take young cooks out and teach them
to do what I do, to see what’s at their
feet. Walk one block down the alley and
there will be things like purslane, little wild
tomato plants, wild amaranth,” says Ford.
“One of my main rules is that I never take
too much,” says Vestal. “I only harvest part
of it, usually the older growth, which will
not affect a plant from regenerating itself.”
And while Ford’s customers delight in
the offbeat ingredient or wild plant,
he says there’s another definition of
foraging that doesn’t relate to wild
products at all, but is more about scoring
those hard-to-find ingredients or small-
producer artisanal items.
Vestal says he began foraging to escape
the city for a few hours, and that it quickly
Some foraged items Vestal uses right
away, in the season’s prime. Other items
he’ll preserve through pickling, drying or
transforming into syrups, compotes, etc.
Vestal’s menu changes daily to weekly,
depending on what’s available, but he says
he’ll often have as many as seven or eight
dishes with a foraged component, including
dessert items such as wild-rose ice cream.
“It could be finding whole animals,
establishing relationships with small
farmers—all of that is foraging, as far as
my understanding,” says Ford.