Interview with Wild Kitchen founder, 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 for the week's residency. France is all about food from 'le terroir' - and so should the UK be. A botanist war veteran was my teacher and mentor. He came into the cafe every day bringing wild plants and he taught me how to safely identify them.

How do you become a professional forager?

I have been foraging since childhood with my parents. We ate dandelion leaves, sorrel omelette and bowls of nettle soup. My father was a gourmet cook and he cooked these plants because they taste delicious. In 2011, I published a book about foraging for children called, Eating Flowers. However, parents said to me, “we want to learn about edible plants too,” so I began to teach adults. What a joy it has been plugging everyone back into our fertile British landscape and encouraging plant appreciation!

What should you bear in mind when foraging (place you can/can’t forage?/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.  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. Jamie Oliver called it, “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.  I was commissioned by The Eden Project to lead an Edible Seashore foray and show how to cook seaweed & coastal plants to make them taste delicious.

What’s you’re favourite meal using foraged ingredients?

I am a total omnivore and champion the Macrobiotic ethos. I relish whatever is growing from the local landscape. If it looks beautiful it will taste beautiful. Whatever is in my basket I am totally enthused about. Today I have been sea buckthorn berries for dishes from curries to caramel to cocktails.

Is there something that most people living in England would be able to find nearby to forage? Yes. I can guarantee that; throughout the year too.

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. As a forager I see tons of potential food around me: shellfish, leaves or nutritious berries and fruit going to waste whilst we buy oil transported food and are told there is a not enough food to feed our population. I would like to see a shift in balance here. A small amount of land can feed many people. Learning how to identify plants, their uses for health and food truly gives one a feeling of freedom and connection to the land.