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Foodies turn to foraging to connect with nature

  • In this photo taken Sept. 4, 2010, Laura Henry of Oakland, Calif., right, and Mindy Ranney pick leaves from a bay laurel tree during a wild food foraging event in Oakland, Calif. Eating foods that grow in the wild and learning to identify, harvest, and prepare them combines the pursuit of novelty and flavor with an urge to connect to the environment. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)

SAN FRANCISCO — When Chef Josh Skenes first sought the flavor of Northern California, he went to local growers. Then he went beyond farms, joining a growing number of urbanites who are returning to humanity's first pursuit — foraging — in a search for food that satisfies a deeper hunger.

Eating foods that grow wild and learning to identify, harvest and prepare them satisfies a need to connect to the environment in a novel way. Plus, food like spicy pods of wild radishes and sweet fennel flowers tastes good, especially in the hands of Skenes, a veteran of top restaurants who is among several high-profile chefs incorporating wild elements into his menu.

Skenes said the greens, roots, flowers and berries that thrive in California's sun and fog-drenched landscape taste sharper and purer than their farmed cousins.

"How do you find the deepest point in flavor?" he asked. "The wild is usually the answer. You can't duplicate nature. There is a difference between something that grows naturally and something that is forced."

Many might doubt the wisdom of eating stinging nettles or the tiny, stringent berries of the pink-flowered currant. But Skenes found an audience among San Francisco's affluent, food-mad denizens. Demand has pushed him to expand, in one year, from once-a-week suppers to a full restaurant serving an eight-course tasting menu.


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