I’ve been cooking BBQ for about 15 years. What drew me to BBQ was the elemental nature of it. Wood, fire, stone, iron. A collection of skills that are not taught in class but passed on as traditional knowledge. When I moved to the Hudson Valley, one of the first things I did was make a spit and a fire pit out behind the house. I’d rummage around in the woods collecting sticks, making fire and roasting meats. My kids would join me and we would sit in the dark by the fire and talk and munch away the same as humans have since the beginning of time. And the food! I had no idea what wood I had been collecting but the flavors were like nothing I’d ever experienced. And as I began to look around I realized how little I knew about these woods. I thought about the native peoples who lived here over the last several thousand years, and how they lived in and thrived in this same forest with the same trees, plants, animals, and fungi.
Over the next several years I began to learn to identify trees. I linked up with mycologists and did mushroom tours. I began to cook these wild edibles, and the more I experienced the more I realized how much incredible foods we have available to us in our backyards. Fields of mustard garlic, wild onions, and carrots, edible plants, flowers, and berries, and the finest mushrooms in the world, quite literally everywhere. From porcinis to morels, to white milkcap mushrooms that are as spicy as a jabanero pepper. The complexity of flavors is stagarring.
And it dawned on me that my future as a chef was to embrace the past, and to learn about the flavors that reflected my landscape. To open up a world of ingredients and tools that are plentiful, delicious, healthy, and available. And through this experience has emerged for me a completely different relationship with food. Im now much more interested in the story of where what we eat comes from, how its farmed, and what is its effect is on our planet. Foraging for wild edibles will not save the human species from starvation, but the knowledge and exposure gained in its pursuit, will undoubtedly increase our appreciation and respect for the world.