The act of foraging: to search for wild food.
When you are a chef and a fifth-generation forager, what do you do after restaurant life?
You follow your roots and host foraging and food adventures in your town. Tofino, British Columbia – to be exact – where the seaweed is abundant, the mushroom game is strong, and the crustaceans are plentiful.
Chef Paul Moran, chief forager, has launched phase one of his newest venture: an intimate, hands – on and uber fun outdoor adventure. It’ll take you from sea to land to forage an evening meal from the goodness of our BC coast.
At the age of 12, Paul began foraging. Interlock this with his culinary prowess, and you have a chef whose passion is to combine wild foods into original world class creations.
May I introduce to you…WildOrigins.ca
Welcome to Forage and Feast.
I’ve been following Chef Paul since his appearance on ‘Top Chef Canada.’ When he reached out to tell me of the new adventure, it took me zero time to jump on board. I’ve been dying to get to Tofino for ages, and this was the perfect hands-on experience!
“All plants that grow on land originated from the ocean” – Paul Moran
Foraging 101 with Chef Paul Moran
We began walking onto the sandy terrain in Tofino, British Columbia. It was low tide and we came across gorgeous mounds of freshly washed-up kelp.
Paul identified the anatomy of the bull kelp and shared some elementary facts.
Did you know you could pickle it? The stipe. Yes, seriously!
The bull kelp heads are often identified in the ocean as sea otter colonies until you get up close and see the bulb part (otherwise known as the float) exposed at the water line. The free-flowing lengthy ends are called the blades.
A short walk across the tombolo (not far from the bull kelp bundles) we found some Galleria, ready-to-eat right off the strap. Paul identified the macro kelp, laver, otherwise known as nori to us non-foraging persons.
Next, we harvested barnacles. I recall a barefoot adventure as a kid where barnacles were not my friend. But alas, the Gooseneck Barnacle has appeared in a different light for me on the west coast as a foraged delight. The neck is the part you eat. These lovelies grow on the rocks just below the high tide line. They sure aren’t the prettiest things to look at…they resemble scaly dinosaur fossils.
(Have you eaten a barnacle before?)
We collected all of these ocean offerings and crafted them as part of our seven-course feast and foraging dinner. Everything that evening was prepared by Paul, and assisted by Amy.
Myself and others took home some bull kelp to pickle (which I have done already) and seaweed to dry.
Into The Forest We Go
Carefully scanning the side of the backroads, Paul’s hawk-eyes can spot a mushroom on the drive by.
We trekked in four mushrooms sites looking for local delicacies.
As I roamed the damp mossy forest floor, focusing on the base of decomposed trees, it was hard to not be distracted by the stunning beauty surrounding me. The light beams created the Japanese komorebi, or ‘the sunlight filtering through leaves.’ It was a ‘pinch me’ moment. I was seriously a little kid looking for the treasures. I felt calm and serene as my head was down looking for the fungi clusters peppering the forest floor.
Tofino is an excellent setting for mushrooms as it’s very moist and has a consistent evening dew through the summer. We looked for chanterelles, pine mushrooms, hedgehogs and the chicken of the woods. ‘Chicken of the Woods’ is a bright orange fungus with shell-like shelves growing on the base of a dead or dying tree. Paul says they can reach 100 lbs+. We found one…(okay not me, but Russ did and so did Danielle, Eva and Lisa). Russ said when he found it he froze because he was so excited, feeling like a little kid who found a golden treasure chest.
For those who are curious like me, I tried the fungus right there. It has a meaty, chicken-like texture, and is a good source of potassium and vitamin C.
Paul shared his expertise about mushrooms and forest growth patterns. It was interesting that he identifies edible mushrooms but doesn’t study most poisonous ones. I guess if you can’t identify you don’t eat it. That took me a minute, but I got it.
Interesting fact: Some of the deadliest mushrooms flourish here on the West Coast.
“A good forager takes care of their harvest, so keep it clean and take care of your harvest.” – Paul Moran
A Night of Fun to Close
After our foraging adventure we took a break and returned for dinner at 7pm. The day required a nap for Russ and I. When we arrived in the evening, we started with a local gin cocktail, gooseneck barnacles and pickled delights. (I’m not giving any secrets away.)
There was this cheese that Paul paired with beets and he referred to as ‘Cheese Whiz’. Oh my, the texture was cheese whiz-ish but the flavour was a tad more mature.
Amy was Paul’s sous chef of the evening. Talking with her, I learned she trained at Northwest Culinary in Vancouver. I took some evening classes there – we all know it’s a small world.
I won’t reveal much, but this is what I will tell you…. The flavours, the textures, and the tasteful plating were expectational. Every morsel was devoured off my plate. It’s an experience you’ll want to…experience.
Foraging has been around for millions of years. Our culture has taken us to ‘easy and convenient’ as a go to for our busy lifestyle. I, however, am interested in creating sustainable food supply systems. It creates relationships and appreciation of the oceans, the forests and the farmers.
In my opinion, the culture around food is rewinding back to basics and embracing hunting and gathering. This includes knowing where our food comes from and starting with a natural state of solid, simple, and bountiful foods.
That is truly amazing.
So, hello foraging.
WildOrigins.ca provisions will be in full operation by the end of November 2020. The company will produce foraged foods from the wild forests and coastal waters of British Columbia. Some of the items are morels, chanterelles, macro kelp and northern wild rice – to name a few.
Are looking for an outdoor adventure partnered with delicious world class cuisine? Paul’s excursions are for you. Not to mention eating Paul’s creations is an absolute treat!
And hey, if foraging isn’t your cup of tea, why don’t you have Paul come and cook wild foods in your home?
(Yes, he can do that!)
Up for an adventure?
Visit the WildOrigins.ca to start your eye-opening experiences!!
You can also follow and connect with Chef Paul here!