Inside the kitchen with Lucia Stuart.

Interview with Lucia Stuart  - forager and founder of The Wild Kitchen.

What were you doing before you set up The Wild Kitchen in 2012?

I owned a restaurant in rural South West France. 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. I learnt French gradually with a few mistakes. On the menu I wrote, “ Tarte au citroen”, a customer said, “Does it come with headlights?” A war veteran and botanist came into the restaurant every day bringing wild plants.

How do you become a professional forager?

I have been foraging since childhood with my parents. In 2011 I wrote a book about foraging for children called, Eating Flowers. When it was published their parents said, “But we want to learn about edible plants too!”  Country knowledge will slowly die out if we are not careful. 

My family would eat dandelion salad, sorrel omelette and bowls of nettle soup. My father was a gourmet cook and he used these plants because they are delicious and fun to gather. The memory of this and the happiness whilst gathering it, I hope to pass on.

What should you bear in mind when foraging (place you can/can’t forage?/things that might be dangerous to eat, best places to look?)

I suggest to begin little by little using a professional guide such as myself.  Learn the characteristics of one edible plant after another. Watch the landscape around you to see where certain plants grow. Understanding plants is like meeting new friends with their individual quirks. Once you begin foraging you develop an eye. There are no 'fast track' ways to plant knowledge. Read voraciously and go on as many courses as possible.

Never eat anything you cannot identify 100% or not pick anything that is scarce. You need common sense to forage. Observe that the plant is healthy and that you are not endangering yourself as you gather. Wild plants have deep roots and maximum growing time so they are high in vitamins and minerals. Industrial food is denuded of nutrients and produced to make a comercial profit. 

Fresh seaweed contains nutrients and interesting flavours. The Japanese eat loads of it, yet in England we largely ignore this ingredient which Jamie Oliver called, “the healthiest vegetable in the world”. Here 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 caramels.

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 whatever at the time; 100% pure ingredients from the local landscape. If it looks beautiful it will taste beautiful. Whatever is fresh in my basket I become totally enthused about.

Is there something that most people living in England would be able to find nearby to forage?

Yes. I can guarantee that. Nature provides from blossoms to buds, to leaves to seed to fruit to berry to roots.

Anything else you’d like to add?

A strong motivation is waste. Food waste in general. A third of British food purchased is thrown away. Food is imported from thousands of miles away that I have seen going to waste - Apples from New Zealand for example. I see tons of potential food around me (for example shellfish, leaves and prime fruit going to waste whilst planes are flying food into our country and we are told there is a not enough food to feed our population by the media. I would like to see a shift in balance here. A small amount of land can feed many people. 

Identifying and gathering wild food truly gives one a feeling of connection to the land. 

© The Wild Kitchen / Lucia Stuart 2017