The eat local movement is expanding from households to a trend where more and more restaurants are sourcing food from local farmers, butchers, cheese makers and fisheries. However, some restaurants are taking eating local to the extreme by local foraging for their staple foods.
We wanted to know more about one of the biggest food trends of 2018, wild foraged food, so we reached out to Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck, the founders of The Herbfarm and their Chef, Chris Weber, to tell us more about wild forage menus.
Why do you forage for your restaurant?
Ron: That’s what we set out to do with the restaurant. We are not a restaurant that “uses local foods whenever available.” We use the local foods. It’s their voice that modulates our menus. For that reason, we change the entire menu essentially every 3 weeks, but also tweak it on a daily basis. Though somewhat radical for a restaurant, this is how humanity has dealt with food almost everywhere in the world for thousands of years. It’s not so hard when you pay attention to nature and the natural cycles. Yes, you can run a restaurant without lemons and extra-virgin olive oil.
Have you ever foraged for your restaurant?
Ron: I have also foraged for the restaurant in the past. In addition, our former sous chefs, Jeremy Faber and Jonathan Julia own Foraged & Found, a local and semi-national wild food foraging company and food aggregator.
Our team does some of the foragings as well, in fact, they have an annual overnight kitchen trip into the mountains to bond and forage each April, which in and of itself is a great story.
Chris, can you tell us more about your annual foraging trip?
Chris: We never really set out to make this annual camping trip a tradition. The first year was me, Sous-Chef Jack and our soon to be former Sous-Chef, Ben, it was a camping trip/send off for him. We went for a hike one of the days and started smelling the pungent aroma of onions. It took us a few minutes to figure out where it was coming from but low and behold, it was right under our feet. They are a small, thin, wild onion called Hooker’s onions that have a very intense aroma of onion and garlic, bordering on a white-truffle. From there we started noticing other things that we had become familiar with. (miners lettuce, spring beauty, maple blossom.)
The following years have turned into a reprise of that original trip, seeking out more places to find the same things we found the first year, trying to understand the habitat a little better. But also, we have been finding more varieties of wild edibles along the way and have a better understanding their seasonality. That is to say that when the Bear Lilies are blooming, we know that they will be done in a week and then Wood Violet starts.
The trip has become a communal event with members from the back house, the front house both current and former employees. As it stands now, we have had consistently about a dozen people every year. This year, we were able to find six different species of wild edibles to bring back to the restaurant. We did stumble upon a pretty good patch of morels but ended up putting them on our cheeseburgers in camp the second night.
What are some of the reasons you love to forage?
Ron: Foraging is fun! It is intellectually stimulating. It gets one out and about and away from thinking that the world is a computer or phone screen. Listen! Geese overhead. Hear the white noise of the unseen river rapids? Smell the green of spring? The crack of twigs underfoot is its own percussion.
What does Keep Food alive mean to you?
Chris: I think something that Ron was getting at and I will too is that it’s more about keeping responsible traditions alive. This can be translated a multitude of ways but in this case, it’s about understanding the natural cycles of food that flourish without human intervention, and how we have a responsibility to not destroy that ecosystem. We want to harvest what we need in order to satisfy our own curiosities and hunger but we also need to leave enough so that it’s there the following year, both for us and out of respect for that place.
The Herbfarm found in Woodinville, Washington and know for its fixed-price, nine-course menus that are changing with the seasons and paired with local wine. To find out more about the Herbfarm visit them online at: http://www.theherbfarm.com/about/