been standing on the bridge over Faversham Creek early the Sunday before last,
you would have seen a strange sight.
A lanky dark-haired man, head down scanning the ground like a
truffle-hound, leading a gaggle of 15 tousled chefs from their warm minibus to
a grassy strip beside the muddy creek. Striding ahead with the truffle-hound is
Shane Osborn, chef and co-owner of the two Michelin-starred London restaurant Pied
Every year, he treats his
brigade to a day out.
he decided to take them foraging along the Kent coastline with one of Britain’s
leading wild food experts, Miles Irving.
chefs gather around Irving, he plucks a handful of chickweed and passes it for
everyone to try.
They nibble the
nutty-tasting plant as Miles starts to explain how it can be used as a delicate
bitter note in salads.
them has cooked with it before, and, aside from Osborn, only one of them has
pale, blinking faces reflect a life spent working in basement kitchens.
It feels odd being outside in the fresh
Miles, meanwhile, is keen to
demonstrate the diversity of food that can be found in grassland.
Within minutes, he’s giving the chefs
hairy bitter-cress leaves, daisy leaves and bristly oxtongue to try.
As he finds each plant, he explains how
to identify, pick and prepare it.
Someone mutters “yuck” as they chew on a daisy leaf.
Miles recommends blanching it to remove
some of the bitterness, before lightly finishing it in butter.
it feels a bit like a school trip, but once everyone has tried some
exquisite-tasting wild celery, the atmosphere relaxes.
Cheffy jokes abound as they eye up some
plump white geese feeding in the mud nearby.
Lunch? Meanwhile, Miles whips out a knife to cut some dandelion
leaves and buck’s-horn plantain. One of the chefs pulls out a bag and stuffs in
sundry samples to evaluate back at the restaurant.
Irving – aka the Forager - is one of their wild food
peculiarly intense gustatory experience sampling 13 different plants in quick
Many of the younger
chefs find the bitterness of plants such as pine-flavoured yarrow leaves and
spicy pepperwort seeds quite unpleasant. “I see it as part of my job to help
train and develop the palates of my chefs,” says Osborn. “There’s no doubt that
foraging is a bit of a fad at the moment, partly because chefs are always
searching for something new.
However, like all fashions, I’m sure that the good elements are here to
I’ve been using wood sorrel
for 10 years in my dishes and there are other ingredients, like sea purslane,
samphire and wild garlic, that I’m sure will remain popular.”
long, we’re heading off to forage on the shoreline of a shingle beach, near
Spring is in the air and
excited chat drifts on the sea breeze as Irving explains that much of what we
see around us is edible.
clumps of Alexanders, brought over by the Romans, are recognized the chefs, who
have braised the stems in chicken stock with tarragon.
Wild fennel, wild onion leaves and
juicy sea beet leaves, evoke equal interest, but a real cheffy thrill comes
when everyone bites into dittander leaves.
They taste of peppery hot horseradish.
According to Irving, dittander root was
widely eaten before horseradish was introduced to Britain. Osborn is
“I’m going to experiment
with this, may be with poached halibut or turbot topped with melted butter and
a few fresh dittander leaves and root shavings.”
end of the morning we have tasted 39 different wild foods.
Everyone is ready for the final treat
of the day, a Michelin-starred lunch at
The Sportsman in Seasalter.
As we tuck into mounds of home-made
bread and butter (the latter made with the restaurant’s own salt), we start to
discuss the trip. Marcus Eaves, head chef of Pied à Terre’s sister
Michelin-starred restaurant L’Autre Pied,
says: “When you’re out here foraging, it really makes you think about
the tastes and flavours of different plants, whereas if someone rings you up
and offers you something unfamiliar, you’re likely to say no out of force of
ideas are buzzing across the table, particularly in relation to ingredients
that had familiar flavour associations, such as the wild celery, sea beet and
dittander. “I want to nurture their excitement,” says Osborn, “so we will try a
couple of ingredients at a time and develop some dishes, first for lunch and
then maybe dinner.”
natural saltiness of sea beet might add an extra dimension to a spring fish
dish, while the wild celery is heading for a light broth with scallops or
has laid bare a natural terroir for London chefs.
We’ve literally tasted the landscape.
As I eat my local slip sole with
seaweed butter, it seems impossible that we could ever go back to ignoring such
Irving’s “The Forager Handbook” is published by Ebury