To launch an imaginative new menu using foraged ingredients Ampersand executive chef Gary Devereaux went foraging for unexpected, unusual or forgotten ingredients that he then turned into culinary masterpieces. Here he explains his passion.
I FIRST BECAME interested in foraging because its a source of food that our forebears used for generations and that we then forgot. It is this element that I like because if you forgive the pun its good to bring food back to its roots.
It is great to uncover the varied and fresh produce on our doorsteps just waiting to be found. Its benefits from a sustainability point of view are that and again forgive the pun it is pretty green. You need not travel far or use vehicles to get hold of the produce. This goes for urban dwellers as well as people in the countryside even in Regents Park in central London you can find Hawthorn bushes, for example.
Of course, there are some drawbacks. There are two main issues: access and knowledge. Getting right into the undergrowth can be difficult and you also need to understand what is safe to eat. Its best to start with things you know are safe such as hawthorn, rose hips, wild garlic and dandelion leaves. As for the undergrowth, the best I can suggest is get stuck in.
Ampersand customers have been responding positively to the notion of foraged food. There is an age-divide that results in either nostalgia or intrigue but both groups are very positive. More mature customers have commented that it makes them feel nostalgic for a time when foraging was part of their childhood lives. Younger clients are also really interested, because they typically live urban, modern lifestyles, so they are intrigued by ingredients that open a world of fresh new tastes to them.
Our chefs also really enjoyed going out and gathering their own ingredients. Picking a cobnut by hand is a world away from picking up the phone to a supplier. Most of our chefs live in the city, so they find that getting into the countryside takes them closer to ingredients and they engage in the job in hand with enthusiasm. They take great care in their task and feel a genuine sense of reward when they create food using ingredients they have foraged by hand.
As for the future for foraging, well I think it will grow in popularity and we will continue to experiment more with different ingredients and flavours. Expect to see more foraged leaves in salads, and also more experimentation with foraged food in preserves, jams, and pickles.
Using foraged ingredients is a really resourceful way of cooking and as a chef its so refreshing to go back to basics. In all honesty we are bringing history up to date and giving it a modern twist. It is refreshing to bring back this concept of stretching and experimenting with natural resources and to use these ingredients to create wonderful dishes that we otherwise may not have the chance to enjoy. I urge everyone to have a go.