Going Beyond The Farm: Foraging For Produce

An extension of the farm-to-table trend that has become popular with chefs, foraging is sweeping the nation. From Georgia to Texas to San Diego, chefs are heading out into their surrounding natural areas in search of wild, local produce. These aren’t just the owners of tiny establishments that can’t afford to buy veggies, either. Gourmet chefs strive to bring the freshest and most interesting flavors to their dishes, and foraged plants are helpful additions because their growing conditions can affect their taste. Naturally, students working on their culinary certificates may be eager to try their hands at creating dishes using foraged foods as well.

Tips for foraging
Foraging was once a common way for people to gather important food sources, but now it is rarely practiced in developed countries thanks to easily accessible grocery stores and supermarkets. Because of this, it can be confusing for a culinary academy student to figure out where or how to start out. Here are some tips for learning how to forage for wild produce:

  • Find a mentor that you can tag along with for your initial trips into nature. Having a mentor can benefit you in a variety of ways. An experienced chef who has been foraging for a while can show you where to find the produce you desire and help you learn how to identify plants correctly.
  • Carry a field guide that is specific to your region. The guide will come in handy for determining if you found the plant you are looking for or if it is actually an inedible look-alike. In addition to providing a picture of what the plant looks like, it can also give descriptions of the smell and texture of the plant to further aid in identification. When choosing a field guide, try to find one that is illustrated rather than cataloged with photographs, because photos sometimes don’t reveal important and intricate details.
  • If you are uncertain, leave it. Many edible plants have similar-looking neighbors that might be unsafe to eat. The last thing you want to do while in an online culinary course is serve one of your dinner guests an inedible plant that makes him or her ill. In addition to uncertain identifications, plants that don’t appear completely healthy should be left behind. A less-than-nutritious looking plant not only has less beneficial properties, but could also be harboring a disease, fungus or toxic chemicals from pollution.

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