It is amazing how oblivious we are to what we have growing around us. Not saying that in a bad way, I remember as a kid watching my family unleash a full on assault at the first sign of a weed in the yard. Little did we know some of the very plants we were dousing with RoundUp, would taste amazing saute’d, tossed in a salad or raw right out of the ground. A few weeks ago, Angela and I were invited by our friends Tony and Lindsey Clark to join them for an event called the Wild Edibles Cooking Class with Chef Clark Barlowe, the Chef and Proprietor of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte, NC. We had a little bit of experience when it came to wild edibles, but our eyes were opened to a whole new world once the class was over.
From the moment you pull up, the local vibe is all around you. From the bee hives on the roof, herbs growing in the front of the building, racks of infused vinegar and sugars scattered throughout the restaurant, there is no doubt Chef Clark champions the farm to fork movement. There was a packed house for the class when the Chef greeted us. He gave us a quick introduction and told us a little about Heirloom and his passion of designing dishes around what nature has provided for us. Then he scooped up a basket and led us out the door on a foraging adventure. We made our way across the street to Coulwood Park, it didn’t take long for the lesson to begin. Now I could sit here and try to list everything he explained to us that day, Young Sweet Gum leaves for tempura, Pine Needles for tea, and Vetch for multiple uses, but I would be doing you an injustice, this is an event you truly need to experience for yourself. But we will highlight a few of the items we find at the homestead in later editions to the Eating Wild series.
After our scavenger hunt, we made our way back to the restaurant to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Chef Clark brought out some of his earlier finds, Wild Onions, ramps and the prized morel mushroom, to include one he came across that was about the size of my head (which trust me, is pretty good size!). He gave us some helpful hints on preparation and the best location and time to harvest, providing us with some great information to head out to forage on our own. One of the draws to this event for us was having the opportunity to sample some of our finds. Chef turned us over to his staff as he moved back to the kitchen to prepare samples for us to try. While we were waiting, we were treated to an amazing tray of Juniper Jelly, Juniper Blue Cheese, and Pickled Eggs to name a few, with each item locally sourced or made in house. As we chatted over a glass of their new Ourceluim Chanterelle Mushroom beer (Which I highly recommend!), we were provided samples of the wild onions, ramps and morel mushrooms, each saute’d perfectly releasing their own individual beautiful earthy flavors!
Seeing first hand what to look for as we scavenge along and learning how to prepare what we find was truly an enlightening experience for us. Having that foundation to build upon as we venture home is invaluable and understanding that nature provides for us even in the most unassuming ways is truly amazing. We want to thank Chef Clark and all of his staff at Heirloom for this awesome experience and we look forward to hopefully tagging along later on down the road for his yearly ramp harvest!