The Wild Kitchen
The Wild Kitchen was launched in 2012 by Lucia Stuart, a professional forager and chef who lives in Deal, Kent.
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 plants from his garden and the wild to use in the kitchen and bar. He became my mentor. After ten years I sold the restaurant and became a chef in London kitchens. Ultimately I missed good quality ingredients obtained at source directly from the land around me. To eat better I had to return to rural life. I would embrace simplicity and commit to Kent food. This coastal landscape led to me discovering historic local plants, nutritious seaweeds and prime quality wild shellfish.
How do you become a professional forager?
Foraging is not a skill - it is a feeling. You may feel the desire to connect with nature and understand what it can give. By knowing just one plant, you can begin to gather your own food and become a forager. I have been foraging since childhood; we ate dandelion and wild garlic salad, sorrel omelette with bowls of nettle soup. My father was a wonderful cook and he cooked plants not just because they were 'wild', but because they were available and they tasted delicious. I became a professional forager by listening. Others did not have as much background experience as myself and they really wanted to learn more. I was happy to oblige.
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?
Surprise and delight are important parts of my ethos. Expect the unexpected. Seasonal ingredients are presented in magical ways; chocolate covered beech leaves, nettle ripple ice cream or lilac blossom meringue. Technical kitchen skills are inspiring for guests and enable me to transform whatever wild ingredient I forge in a million ways. Leaves, flowers and seaweed may be pickled, roast, baked or powdered into bright colours. A fresh oyster is placed in a cocktail or seaweeds frozen in ice. Introducing customers to flavours and textures they may never have experienced 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 a wild vegetable from which all cultivars come from. I worked with Paul Hollywood on Pies & Puds Tv programme. We foraged ingredients for baking. We discussed seaweed and sea buckthorn but he chose a well known plant, lavender. I was commissioned by The Eden Project to lead an Edible Seashore foray and show the team how to make seaweed taste delicious.
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?
At The Wild Kitchen we love the natural world and nourish ourselves as our forefathers did thousands of years ago. 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 true privilege.