With a fine dining restaurant located in the stunning Perthshire countryside we are utterly spoilt by the natural larder that surrounds us, which is why I am slightly obsessive about foraging.
Throughout the year my wife Anna and daughter Connie (6) forage for many ingredients including Alexanders, wild garlic, mushrooms and edible funghi, nettles, wood sorrel and elderflowers that are then incorporated into The Roost's menus. I only pick what I know and I only pick what I need so nothing is wasted.
We have most recently been foraging funghi - mainly Boletus (including Cepes) and Chanterelles - and as an experienced chef I know the exact size, shape and quality that I am looking for. I use these to match the local game such a partridge, mallard and grouse.
There is something about hunting for ingredients that appeals to almost everyone I know that has tried it. I imagine that it is a bit like a pirate's hunt for treasure, the hope for success will drive you to keep going and the glee of finding so many edible treasures is hard to beat. I have never been one for a walk for walk's sake, so I need a challenge to make it all worthwhile.
When I first met Anna I remember her telling me one Sunday in September that she could not meet me for our usual Sunday morning ritual of drinking Bloody Marys and reading the papers because she had plans to go out of town (we lived in the centre of Edinburgh at the time) to pick mushrooms in the woods. I admit that I teased her for this, as it was new to me and seemed absurd. She ignored my teasing and went anyway, and eventually persuaded me to come along the next time she went. From that point on I was hooked.
Since opening The Roost in 2008, foraging in rural Perthshire has become a way of life for me. I spend more hours than I like to count in the restaurant kitchen in service, at the stove, preparing dishes and on the phone to suppliers. I do feel that this erodes the time that I can spend with my family and I have therefore found that foraging is a guilt-free part of my work as well as being a great way to spend time with Anna and Connie.
This week we have been finding and picking Chanterelle mushrooms in our local woods. I absolutely love these mushrooms and they will appear on my menus from the very start of the season to the end. Chief forager Connie is the perfect height to see these little orange funghi peaking up through the bracken underfoot.
I recently served our foraged Chanterelles with beautiful herb-crusted local red deer with the mushrooms providing a distinctive flavour contrast to the meat that lightened the dish. They also make the plate look beautiful and colourful!