I've been trying to make a conscious effort to eat locally and cook with ingredients that grow from the ground, rather than roll off a factory line. It's always been hard to bridge the gap between what I can control and prepare in my own kitchen to what I consume while dining out. That is, until my first Wild Food Dinner this past weekend where all the ingredients were sourced and foraged within a 10 mile radius. The proteins came from a little further as hunting wasn't apart of this forage though we did find some coyotes on a recent outing, but coyote wasn't on the menu. The meat we did have came from Harmony Farms in La Crescenta. Even the salt, was personally gathered, dehydrated and created by our hosts.
One of our hosts was Pascal Bauder, whom I recently discussed during my foraging adventure around Orcas Park in Sylmar where he educated a group of us on the many different wild edible plants, berries and nuts around us. This time at the end of our morning forage, there was going to be a 10 course meal with all the locally sourced ingredients prepared by him and his partner in crime Mia Wasilevich.
We were told to pace ourselves as there would be 10 courses, but when the first course went down all bets were off and a not a morsel left. We each received our own cutting board filled with Vermont's Jasper Hill, robust, pungent Winnimere cheese with wine soaked figs.
While I may or may not have directly licked the cheese off the spoon, there were crackers for those with some restraint made from curly dock seeds, CA buckwheat, wheat, watercress powder, chia, wild grass seeds, chili, some of that homemade salt and yes even the olive oil was homemade. It was crisp and savory.
In between the cheese and cracker was homemade duck prosciutto that had been aged and wrapped with local foraging aromatics like sagebrush, California Bay and other sages. It had a nice, not overly smoky taste with a good bite.
My vegetarian friend didn't just get a cracker for her first course, but instead she received this gorgeous display of a tumbleweed nest filled with homemade hummus using palo verde beans and olive oil. All of this, and we're still at the first course.
There were wine pairings, in addition to locally foraged and produced wild sage and mugwort beer and cider. We even were able to enjoy some wild soda with rosehip, elderberry and muggleberry. Really unique, refreshing tastes that even turned a beer hater friend with me into a lover.
We moved into some beautiful greens next - chickweed, oxalis, watercress, cleavers, rat tail radishes, miner's lettuce, mustard flowers, nasturtium and wild chervil to name a few. Puts your caesar salad to shame, doesn't it? The greens surrounded a thick, preserved lemon gastrique with Mariposa's own feta and a perfectly poached quail egg atop a toasted crostini. I'd be pretty happy eating that any day for lunch, which actually I suppose I could since all of those greens are there for the picking not far from my house.
Our next dish was actually a bowl with a few interesting pieces in it like fried nettles and garlic strings. We weren't sure if we were just supposed to eat these as is, which some did, and they were excellent, but then we learned there was more.
Earlier in the day Pascal had admired some Mule Fat growing and thought its sturdy base would make a good soup carrier. Yeah, he thinks a little differently than the rest of us. He puts MacGyver to shame.
It seemed hard to believe that this thin stick was going to carry anything, but I believed, and was rewarded.
The stick carried nettle soup that was served in giant, hollowed reeds and poured into our bowls. It was quite the presentation and the soup had such a different, earthy taste like nothing I've had before, but would gladly have again.
Luckily we had a light and airy goosefat popover to sop up the last remains of the soup.
Next up was a little burger that packed a lot of punch. The patty was made with acorns, a lot of them, and I don't need to reiterate that everything was picked and created by our hosts. There was a wild spicy black mustard, elderberry ketchup, fantastic juniper pickled onions and the most crisp, etheral glass chips. That's one burger and chip plate you won't need a nap after. It was light, but full of flavor.
We starting moving into more substantial proteins with a beautiful whole trout that was cooked in clay over oak bark with more local aromatics like clover, chervil and white fir. The white chervil beurre blanc pulled everything together and was topped with elderberry capers and flowers.
Then came the meat. The most delicate flavorful quail confit came out with foraged oyster mushrooms and wild chervil. There was a slightly sweet, but fully robust nocino mushroom sauce, making for great swirling with the sunchoke gnocchi served alongside. Outstanding.
A word about wild chervil. Can you note the difference between the two plants below?
They're nearly identical, but one can kill you if consumed, and the other will simply be tasty in your food. The one on the left is hemlock, yes the one that Socrates took, but the difference to look for is that chervil is a little furry and smells like carrot. I made sure to look for fur on my chervil before digging in. We also had seen a few mushrooms in the morning, but not many. That's another one you need to know about so you don't eat the wrong ones or make sure you're with a master forager. Most of the mushrooms we had during dinner were collected last year and dehydrated since this isn't prime mushroom growing season.
We then received a real piece of the forest. Goat was cooked in much of the basic items we had found during the day like grass, leaves, and aromatics. There was a toss of mugwort beer and even some turkey mushrooms we saw growing along a tree in the forest.
We were finally winding down, and I will say that this was about 5 hours in. A gentleman at our table nodded off during a course or two, only to rally after his quick naps, ready to devour whatever he woke up to in front of him.
The meal ended as strongly as it began with black sage hot chocolate and fresh goat's milk. It was like an unsweetened and savory hot chocolate with added depth. Then there was a cigar cookie with milk jam and spiced, toasted CA buckwheat flowers that was sweet and crisp on its own and even better swirled through the chocolate. A beautiful mound of juniper blueberry ice cream sat innocently under a handful of lemon ants. Yes, ants.
I had watched Pascal use his ant suction contraption to collect some of these guys, then he freezes them and makes them taste much better than you would think. They're the protein of the future.
It was truly an unforgettable meal that I can safely say will never be replicated again. It was months in the making, collecting and foraging, and decades in the education, experimentation and conception of all the dishes. If you're interested in locally sourced food, I highly recommend a day or dinner with Pascal or Mia. You'll learn a lot and come away believing that you too can eat local and delicious food not far from your home.