In an article titled “Chefs Look for Wild Ingredients Nobody Else Has“, The New York Times mentions Castagna Chef Matthew Lightner –
Increasingly, in an era when truffles are farmed and Whole Foods sells fresh porcini, the ingredients that chefs seek are not the ones anyone can order; they’re the ones that few have ever heard of. They are the most unusual, not the most expensive. And even if they’re plentiful, they’re exclusive: you need either to know where to go and what to gather, or who to call.
While foraging isn’t new — ramps and purslane are becoming as much a part of seasonal eating as tomatoes and corn — this generation of ambitious chefs is finding a new level of inspiration outside the garden. Feral plants with names like toothwort, cornelian cherries, brown jug, creasy greens, sweet cicely, pineapple weed and licorice fern are traveling from the forest floor to the thin porcelain plates of restaurants like Eleven Madison Park, in New York City, and Alinea, in Chicago.
…at Castagna in Portland, Ore., white acorns are shaved over elk loin and root vegetables with a sauce made from vinegar infused with local juniper. The chef, Matthew Lightner, said that the dish presents the elk as it might be in the forest, rooting out nourishment.
“It’s the frontier,” Mr. Lightner said. “The woods are this mysterious area where things grow. You don’t have to tend to it, you don’t have to plant it, you just have to find it. Everybody is used to exotic products you ship in, or the farm-to-table thing. Now people have an interest when we serve them something they spotted when they were out on a hike.”
I really appreciate what Matthew Lightner has done and applaud his success and recognition. That said, I’d be a little irritated if I paid for a dish that had acorns on it.
Jason L. says
The vast majority of the meat consumed in the US is produced on Factory Farms. Clearly everyone is not used to “the farm-to-table thing”. This kind of statement really disappoints me. I applaud Castagna for doing some experimenting with wild ingredients, but change requires staying power. If we are going to fix our food systems, “the farm-to-table thing” still needs our support, not flippant dismissals.
Pearl District says
Jason: I don’t think this should be read as a flippant dismissal of anything. This is a story about chefs foraging for new ingredients–not a critique of our food system. You’re removing the context. Please read the entire article. Anyone familiar with Castagna knows that establishment is as committed to local farms as any other place in town.
Jason L. says
Pearl District: Don’t get me wrong–I think it’s wonderful that there are chefs exploring new ways of getting closer to the source, including foraging, etc. I read the article several times, in fact. However, when Lightener makes the statement “Everybody is used to exotic products you ship in, or the farm-to-table thing.” It is hard not to read this as saying these things are so yesterday. “The farm-to-table thing” is just some “thing” that’s become old-hat and what is new and exciting is foraging or wild game. While he may think that way,there is more to the situation. The truth is that while farm-to-table may be just a culinary fad for some people, for other people it is not. Farm-to-table is one example of a step forward in moving more people toward the source and away from CAFOs and factory farming. It is a good step. Not just a “thing”. And clearly not everyone is used to it because farm-to-table programs are small and have a lot of growing to do before they start to have a substantial impact on our everyday food consumption. So, again, I think it’s great that Lightener has found foragers to buy from (see page 2 of the NY Times article). But let’s not treat these other important programs like out of fashion “things” in the process.
Anne onymous says
Sounds like you both have a huge misconception on what it is to be a chef. Basically you take what your passionate about and run with it. For a chef in Portland, farm to table has been going on since the 90’s and was brought to life by Alice Waters in San fran and Corey Schreiber and Vitaly Paley here in the northwest.
For a chef that is in their twenties they learned this during culinary school or on the job. It is not a fad that is out it is integrated to the point now that it is time to push even further forward. Always pushing the envelope and expanding the palate in which we have draw from.
Don’t be afraid if you are just learning about farm to table and then find out there is this whole foraging thing as well. Each has its place in the line of learning and progressing. One does not trump the other.
Well said Anne