The Wild Kitchen, in Deal Kent, was launched in 2012 by Lucia Stuart who was inspired by the wealth of wild food in coastal Kent. The company hosts wild food adventures to find lost flavours and feast upon foraged food together.
Interview with Lucia Stuart founder of The Wild Kitchen
What were you doing before you set up The Wild Kitchen in 2012?
I was a chef in London dining rooms, but, over time, I missed the direct connection with my ingredients. I made a conscious decision to embrace rural living and simplicity. I had enjoyed village throughout the 1990's, when I owned a cafe/restaurant in rural South West France. We cooked local 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 we could use in the kitchen and bar. He was my teacher. France had a huge impact on my food education. I owe the country a lot.
How do you become a professional forager? I have been foraging all my life. In my childhood, we ate dandelion salad, sorrel omelette and bowls of nettle soup. My father was a gourmet cook and he cooked these plants not just because they were 'wild' but because they tasted delicious and were readily available. In 2011, I published a foraging book for children called, Eating Flowers. I felt a strong need to connect this generation to the land again. Unexpectedly their parents said to me, “we want to learn about edible plants too", which planted the seed for teaching.
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?
Simple fresh leaves, thrown into hot butter, can taste sublime because of their exceptional freshness, but I do love a sophisticated approach to cooking because it tests my technical skills and is inspiring for my guests. Surprise and delight are important parts of the day. I might present the seasonal ingredient in the most wacky way possible; chocolate covered beech leaves or lilac blossom Turkish Delight. Leaves, flowers and seaweed can be powdered into bright colours or a fresh oyster used as a mayonnaise. I am plotting to make seaweed ravioli in the shape of shark cases and serving chocolate-dipped berries on the branch.
Does it surprise the people on your courses just how good foraged food can be?
Yes. As well as the copious supply. Customers often mention the new flavours that linger on the tongue for such a long time. There have been some funny descriptions of foraged food; a piece of seaweed that tastes like, “mushrooms-on-toast with-butter”’. Not only is wild food nutrient laden but it has zero miles. We swallow oysters on the beach. I used to bring dressings for the shellfish but the oysters are so delicious they need nothing else.
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 Tv programme, finding ingredients for his 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.
What’s you’re favourite meal using foraged ingredients?
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; the leaves of the Baobab tree in Africa, orange blossoms and carob in Spain. Freshly picked, 'living' food will taste beautiful and nourish us to the maximum. 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.
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. It is chemically enhanced and produced for profit. I see free food all around me going to waste.
Learning how to identify and gather wild food truly gives one a feeling of connection to the land and freedom. and it will heal and nourish our bodies to the maximum.