Wellington chefs are turning hunter-gatherer in their quest for unique ingredients.
Foraging for wild food has become a regular habit for chefs from restaurants such as Taylor's on Jackson, Duke Carvell's and Hummingbird.
Glen Taylor, of Taylor's on Jackson, in Petone, says foraged ingredients on its menu have included wild sorrel, onion weed, nasturtiums, fennel, parsley, elderflowers and seaweed.
The trend was popularised by international restaurants such as the Michelin-starred Noma in Denmark, he says. "It's opened everyone's eyes up. It's very in fashion, very in vogue."
His chefs enjoy foraging and sometimes spend several hours each day seeking out ingredients.
"It's good to get the chefs out of the kitchen. It gives you something different for the plate . . . it gives them something different from their peers."
Although reluctant to disclose exact locations, he says the Hutt Valley, Lyall Bay, Island Bay and Mt Victoria are among his favourite spots.
He also makes a yearly trip to Levin to pick elderflowers.
Taylor is careful to choose clean, unpolluted areas and checks every wild ingredient carefully. "It's definitely knowing what you're picking. If you're not sure, don't eat it - or ask someone that knows, especially for the mushrooms and fungi."
Hummingbird head chef Helen Turnbull, who will be holding a session on wild herbs as part of Wellington On a Plate, says foraged plants often have a stronger flavour than commercially grown varieties.
"For me it really adds something. It just makes the dish better . . . it helps me to exceed expectations. You're getting something really fresh and really local, something that's special that you can give your customers."
Duke Carvell's also uses foraged ingredients, with wild nasturtiums and pine needles currently on the menu.
Head chef Joel Humphrey says customers are keen to try foraged foods. "It's obviously really fresh, because you're picking it and serving it that day."
Johanna Knox, author of a guide to foraging entitled A Forager's Treasury, says foraged foods tend to be richer in nutrients than cultivated food. "You know what you're getting, and as long as you're getting it from somewhere clean, it tends to be healthier."
Some common native plants such as kawakawa, taupata and cabbage tree shoots are also edible, Knox says.
For those eager to sample native foraged foods, Zealandia is holding a degustation dinner of handpicked native ingredients for Wellington On a Plate.
- The Dominion Post