"My life is plants"
The Wild Kitchen, in Deal Kent, was launched in 2012 by Lucia Stuart, a professional forager and chef,
who wanted to share her knowledge of the plant world by combining coastal foraging with wild food feasts.
Interview with Lucia Stuart founder of The Wild Kitchen
What were you doing before you set up The Wild Kitchen in 2012?
Throughout the 1990's I owned a cafe/restaurant in rural South West France. We cooked local food directly from 'Le terroir'; fig sorbet, elderflower cordial, wild mushrooms and nettle soup. A war veteran and botanist came into the cafe bringing wild plants to use in the kitchen and bar. He was my mentor. France had a huge influnce. After ten years I sold the restaurant and became a cook in London dining rooms. Ultimately I missed eating food obtained at source directly from the land around me. I decided to embrace rural life again and made a conscious decision to embrace simplicity and commit to Kent food. To forage the food ourselves is the 'cherry on the icing' and offers a unique experience. Discover historic plants, nutritious seaweed and wild shellfish.
How do you become a professional forager?
Its a slow burn. If you can identify just one plant, you can begin to gather your own food. In my childhood, we ate dandelion salad, sorrel omelette and bowls of nettle soup. My father was a wonderful cook . He cooked plants not because they were 'wild', but because they tasted delicious and grew around us in rural Cornwall. In 2011, I had the idea to publish a foraging book for children called, Eating Flowers. I wanted to connect children to nature through gathering food and cooking. Parents said to me, “but we want to learn about edible plants too". This planted the seed for teaching foraging, excuse the pun.
You're looking at this in a far more 'gourmet' way than some other foragers - what are some of the most exotic meals you can whip up using foraged coastal ingredients?
A sophisticated approach to cooking showcases my technical skills and is inspiring for guests. Surprise and delight are important parts of the day. Seasonal ingredient are presented in amazing ways; chocolate covered beech leaves or lilac blossom Turkish Delight. Leaves, flowers and seaweed can be powdered into bright colours or pressed onto biscuits, a fresh oyster is used as a mayonnaise or veloute and wild spices sprinkled into butter pastry. Introducing customers to flavours they may never have tasted before is a great joy to me.
Does it surprise the people on your courses just how good foraged food can be?
Yes. Customers say that flavours that linger on the tongue; flavours they have never be tasted before. It's a new spectrum. We talk about 'fifth' and 'sixth' flavours and strive to describe the new tastes; a piece of seaweed that tastes like “mushrooms-on-toast with-butter", medicinal flowers and earthy lichens.
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. I worked with Paul Hollywood on Pies & Puds Tv programme, finding ingredients for baking. 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. A team from Food Network descended from The Orient Express to gather wild oysters with me on the gastro feast.
What’s you’re favourite meal using foraged ingredients?
I relish what grows around me at the time. Ingredients from the local landscape, means that you never get bored of an ingredient. Just as you have had your fill of oysters, for example, a new wild plant emerges. I forage where ever I am in the world; the leaves of the Baobab tree in Africa, orange blossoms and carob in Spain, weeds from London parks. Nature's bounty never ceases to provide. Freshly picked, 'living' food, gathered by hand, will taste beautiful and nourish us. I am sad that people often walk past it.
Is there something that most people living in England would be able to find nearby to forage? Yes definitely.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Learning how to identify and gather wild food truly gives one a feeling of connection to the land. It heals and nourishes the body and soul. To promote and encourage this is a terrific privilege.