Stroll through any nearby forest or chaparral, and you’ll be struck by a botanic bouquet of enticing scents and curiously mouth-watering sensations. Your brain isn’t playing tricks. These native lands offer up a number of edible plants and herbs ready for your kitchen — if you know where to look.
On Saturday, April 30, renowned author, professional forager, and self-described culinary alchemist Pascal Baudar will come from Los Angeles to join Ojai Herb Walks guide Lanny Kaufer for a foraging walk and “primitive herbal brewing” demonstration at Ojai’s Wheeler Gorge Nature Trail. In addition to teaching the basics of foraging and wild brewing, Baudar will serve examples of recipes from his recently published book, The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir — acorn hummus and pickled black walnuts being just some of the possible dishes.
With a deep knowledge of wild locavorism, Baudar built a name for himself sourcing ingredients for L.A.’s most celebrated chefs. Growing up in Bléharies, Belgium, a town of “1,500 people and a lot of cows,” Baudar acquainted himself with the hazelnuts, walnuts, and berries that grew throughout the forests there, and his interest went from pastime to survival skill to culinary technique. “I realized there was an open field of flavors and no one was doing anything with them, so I started working on culinary techniques, preservation methods, and recipes,” he said. “I try to take raw ingredients from the wilderness and transform them into something that people can enjoy from a culinary perspective.” A good example would be his Forest Beer, a hugely versatile brew made of varying leaves, barks, mushrooms, and plants.
Today, Baudar can collect an estimated 450 raw ingredients from nature, and he’s always finding more. His discoveries are opening up the possibility of as-yet-undeveloped cuisines, similar to the New Nordic cuisine that came into existence only years ago. Equipped with the knowledge of what to find, foragers can create “countless combinations — it’s really an infinite process,” Baudar said. “Even after 16 years of doing it, I keep finding new plants and new culinary uses. It’s very humbling, as you come to realize that you are really a student. The learning never stops.”
He hopes his class will inspire aspiring alchemists to see nature’s bounty. “I would love for people to realize that wild food is actually gourmet food,” he said. “It’s really a huge world of flavors begging to be discovered.”
Pascal Baudar joins Ojai Herb Walks guide Lanny Kaufer on Saturday, April 30, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at Wheeler Gorge Nature Trail in Ojai. Admission is $50. See herbwalks.com or call (805) 646-6281.