The Wild Kitchen is a 'roving restaurant' that combines gourmet wild plant, shellfish and algae feasts with foraging adventures. Its' founder, Lucia Stuart is a Professonal chef turned full-time forager with a Fine Art background. She launched the company in 2012, inspired by the wealth of wild food in coastal Kent that was little known about.
Throughout the nineties, Lucia owned a rural restaurant in South West France where wild food was often on the menu as well as residential Gourmet holidays; ‘French Food from Hedgerow to Market’. For ten years she learnt the craft of cooking the best food from 'le terroir'; presented with a splash of creative style. Afterwards she worked a a professional chef in London kitchens but she missed rural life, nature and seasonal food gathered from her surroundings.
She has appeared on television and radio and is a member of The Association of Foragers.
Interview with Lucia Stuart
What were you doing before you set up The Wild Kitchen in 2012?
I owned a cafe/restaurant in rural South West France for ten years. I ran food holidays too, 'French Food from Hedgerow to Market'. Guests came from all over the world to learn how to forage, shop locally and cook. Customers appreciated food from 'le terroir'; fig sorbet, elderflower cordial and nettle soup. A war veteran and botanist came into the cafe every day bringing wild plants.
How do you become a professional forager? I have been foraging since childhood ,with my parents we ate dandelion salad, sorrel omelette and bowls of nettle soup. My father was a gourmet cook and he cooked these plants simply because they tasted delicious and they were thre; growing all around us. In 2011, I published a book about foraging for children called, Eating Flowers. Their parents said to me, “we want to learn aboutedible plants too!"
What should you bear in mind when foraging ?/things that might be dangerous to eat?
Learn the characteristics of one edible plant after another; little by little. There are no 'fast track' ways to plant knowledge. Understanding plants is like meeting new friends with their individual quirks. Once you begin to forage you will develop an eye. Read voraciously. Attend courses and handle and eat wild seasonal plants as often as you can. Never eat anything you cannot identify 100% . Do not pick anything that is scarce; observe that the plant is healthy and that you are not endangering yourself as you gather. Fresh seaweed contains nutrients and interesting flavours. The Japanese eat loads of it, yet in England we largely ignore this ingredient that Jamie Oliver called, “the healthiest vegetable in the world”. In East Kent we have lots of tasty seaweed it is just a question of knowing how to cook it. This is my pleasure to explain at The Wild Kitchen.
We hear you’ve worked with the Eden Project & the BBC - how did this happen, what did you do with them?
In April 2016 I filmed with Dr. Michael Morley. We were in praise of the Brassica oleracae; an antecedent of many vegetables. I worked with Paul Hollywood on Pies & Puds finding ingredients in the landscape for baking. At the BBC studio we discussed seaweed and sea buckthorn. I was commissioned by The Eden Project to lead an Edible Seashore foray and show how to cook seaweed and make it taste delicious.
What’s you’re favourite meal using foraged ingredients?
Whatever is fresh in my basket I become totally enthused about. I am a total omnivore. I relish what grows around me. 100% pure & natural ingredients from the local landscape. I forage where ever I am, from leaves of the Baobab tree in Africa to orange blossoms in Spain. Freshly picked, 'living' food will taste beautiful and nourish us to the maximum.
Is there something that most people living in England would be able to find nearby to forage? Yes.
Anything else you’d like to add?
A third of British food purchased is thrown away and we import food from thousands of miles away. Modern industrial food is making us ill every day. It is chemically enhanced and produced for profit. I see free food all around me: shellfish, leaves, tasty flowers or nutritious berries and fruit going to waste. I hear, "delicious food (ie junk food, is the cheapest to buy, which is what is making everyone fat". Wrong on every count. 1. The cost to our heath service is enormous. That is not 'cheap'. 2. It is not food - much of it is industrial chemical nonsense. 3. A wild apple on a tree is free.
I would like to see bountiful wild food such as nettles, become an every day habit as it is in the Mediterranean countries. My daily foraging for ingredients is an exception and I dream of it becoming a rule. Learning how to identify and gather wild food truly gives one a feeling of connection to the land and freedom..