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 to learn how to forage, shop locally and cook. Customers appreciated 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. He taught me how to find them also.
How do you become a professional forager? I have been foraging since childhood with my parents we ate dandelion salad, sorrel omelette and bowls of nettle soup. My father was a gourmet cook and he cooked these plants simply 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 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. Once you begin to forage you will develop an eye. Read voraciously. 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. At the BBC studio 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 whatever is growing 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. Today I have been sea buckthorn caramel for using in all manner of dishes from cocktails to cakes.
Is there something that most people living in England would be able to find nearby to forage? Yes. I can guarantee that.
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. Apples from New Zealand or living herbs from Israel. 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 and gather wild food truly gives one a feeling of connection to the land and independence.