Seven Courses Of Foraged Foods - A team effort of talented chefs, foragers and sommelier
When was the last time you had a copious dinner and walked away with an urge to examine your lawn for edible weeds?
Daniel Millikin— who for over ten years has been working to grow edible gardens in the Houston area— teamed up with his brothers and Foraging Texas’ Mark "Merriwether" Vorderbruggen for an abundance of wild ingredients, and involved chefs Erin Smith and Felipe Riccio to develop a menu around foraged weeds, fruits, flowers, local seafood and game.
Introducing her first course, chef Smith admitted to the challenge of cooking with ingredients that didn’t arrive until the very last minute. “As a chef I’m used to ordering and getting delivered what I need when I need it.” The food the chefs put out showed nothing of that challenge, and in fact revealed they were quite in their element cooking with wild foods foraged from yards and parks earlier that day.
The menu kicked off with sprouted kamut bread and a calamondin marmalade that captured all of the appetizing sourness of this small citrus. Gulf flounder—in season earlier in the month—was salted, dried and served as a bacalao. It came with a bunch of wild greens, wood sorrel flowers, and delectable specks of house-cured yellow fin bottarga.
Riccio’s charred nopales were crisp, perfectly slimy and refreshing with the pickled shrimp, prickly pear vinaigrette, wilted goosegrass and the crisp, slightly sour purslane.
Confit of dove was paired with braised young Turk’s Cap leaves in a double ravioli. It came drizzled with warm brown butter and candied Texas pecans, harvested from his mother’s trees and shelled by Daniel Millikin.
“You can’t have a dinner without a brodo,” said chef Riccio, bringing to the table an intense, clear vegetarian broth holding a quenelle of smoked onion and peppergrass. It was a moment of silence before a storm of bold flavors that came with the venison sausage—delivered fresh and smoked to finish—wild greens sauerkraut, pickled mustard pods, a mulberry sauce with a hint of heat, and canna lily roots. After hours of scraping, cleaning, cooking and baking in the kitchen, these tubers came in little nuggets of tender flesh in a pleasantly chewy skin.
Pairing these less than familiar foods with wines is quite a challenge but one that sommelier David Keck accepted with fervor. Throughout the dinner, Keck entertained in his knowledgeable, passionate way, connecting grapes and terroirs to the parade of weeds and wild foods that came to the table. He received nods when diners recognized how the sweet fruity notes of the Edelzwicker (a blend of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer) from Alsace balanced the acidity in the pickled shrimp with charred nopales; smiles when the Pinot Grigio from Venezia-Giulia contrasted refreshing with the brown butter rich flavors of the ravioli; and nods again when his pick of Cabernet Frank worked well to liaise the hearty venison sausage, mulberry sauce and the earthy canna lily roots. The Matthiasson Sweet Vermouth—viscous and honey-like sweet—and the redbud ice cream, dense toasted amaranth alegria, and leaf-shaped pine cookies had us lean back, relax and “wow” the dinner we just had.
Seven courses and five different wines later, we were content yet not bursting at the seams. The secret of a great multi-course meal: balance it, portion it well, and use good, clean ingredients. Everything was made from scratch—and never more literally so: from digging up the roots to scraping, soaking and cooking them to salting the flounder, picking and pickling the mustard pods, cleaning the red buds and churning the ice cream, to harvesting the fish roe to cure it months in advance. The dinner was an eye-opener in many ways, including making us aware that good, natural and healthy food is growing right under our noses in our own yards. “Wild greens are nutrient-rich super foods,” said Millikin, who reeled in brothers Tom and Jeff to supply the fresh venison sausage and doves. The team effort paid off: beautiful food, great wines, and a raised awareness to pay more attention to the weeds growing in our yards. Many are not weeds: they are super foods waiting for you to bring them into your kitchen!
For more information on future foraged food events, or edible gardening, contact firstname.lastname@example.org