Gary Goldie is excited.
He is talking animatedly about a film on foraging he's featured in, which will soon be shown at the Phoenix Cinema's Food & Film festival in Oban.
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In fairness, the film isn't all Goldie has to be excited about. Emboldened by stretches working abroad, at the end of last year the chef made a decision to relocate to the kitchen of Oban's Queens Hotel, and make a go of things as the executive chef. He is joined today by his head chef who oversees the kitchen, allowing Goldie the chance to put his mind to other sides of the business aside from cooking.
The word sides is misleading plural: Goldie vested almost his entire being into foraging to provide the ingredients for his kitchen, and a wild restaurant was born. Goldie is quick to bring to light that garygoldie@thequeens is a Best Western hotel newly refurbished ahead of his arrival in Oban. He shouldn't worry that this fact will affect perceptions of it: the menu from the hotel's opening night proves that, in terms of output, his food could not be further from the usual fodder served to guests in chain pubs. The menu is written sparely: "wood avens, hazlenuts, gorseflower, rose hip". When you have ingredients you've harvested yourself a few days previously, adjectives feel superfluous.
"I'd go so far as to say that we probably serve more wild produce than any other restaurant in Scotland", Goldie explains. "It's a Best Western Hotel, and people frown on that. But here, I use my experiences at Noma and other places I've worked to inspire the service and food I make".
Ah, the N-word. Goldie spent a 'stage' (the equivalent to work experience) cooking at Copenhagen's most famous two-star restaurant where he picked up certain service styles that he now adopts at his current eatery. "I take the food out to diners myself, which we also did at Noma", which feels like an organic touch. Some of the performance is inspired by his time spent elsewhere, but most of the ideas are his own. While out gathering the herbs and mushrooms for dinners, the chef also harvests flowers for table decorations, depending on what's in season.
While working at In De Wulf in Belgium, Goldie met and trained under chef and forager Kobe Desramaults. It was to be a pivotal point in his career, and one that led him down the path that would find him opening his own restaurant focussing on food he'd found himself.
Many chefs claim to forage, but few commit to it with the same vigour as Goldie. "I've just got a lot of patience for it", he explains. "It's a hobby. It started 15 years ago when I tasted a pignut tuber out the back of a hotel I was working in. It tasted like coconut; not just in flavour but texture, too."
The foraging bug bit. "As a kid, I was really into looking in the woods. I'm not saying I was a loner but I liked doing my own thing and I spent a lot of time just looking at things".
Keen to dispel thoughts that suggest foraging is a strictly singular activity, Goldie talks fondly of his friendship with Dick Peebles, a mushroom expert based in Balfron. "You can be 99% sure that a mushroom's OK to eat, but when you're cooking them for other people, you have to be 100% sure. That's what's great about being friends with Dick - if I'm a wee bit unsure, I just ask him". Goldie even takes his kids out with him: local artist Anita Remport has captured a sweet moment between Goldie and his young daughter foraging together in a painting he keeps in his house.
The mushroom season starts soon too: yet more reason for excitement. Just now, sweet cicely is plentiful, and morelles will start appearing next month. Come June, the scarlett elf cup with its howling red mouth will be rife in the forests of Argyll, followed by ceps in August. Right now, there are plenty of girolles to watch out for. And tracking the season will be Goldie, not only in his restaurant but also in writing for Herald Scotland. "I've felt for a while that I needed to record the foraging", he says. "I'll be discussing what's available and when, how to safely identify the produce, and - most importantly - how to use what you find in cooking".
The tools are simple - Goldie works with a simple opinel knife to harvest his produce, but it is trial and error. "Unlike cheffing, you don't want a sharp knife - mushrooms are soft, so you don't need a sharp blade. Dick taught me that - at first I didn't believe it, but now I've got the scars to prove it!" Whatever grows together in any given area, Goldie knows will prove harmonious in terms of flavour combination. "Gorseflowers grow with sorrel, so you know they'd work together on a plate. Ground elder, Lady's Smock, young dock shoots, nettles and sticky willies, for example, all grow from the same environ."
A few months back, he tweeted an image of the day's mushroom haul with the caption "healthy, earthy, scarlet elfy selfie". It reads like a quote from a fresh, postmodern spin on a Brothers' Grimm fairy tale. And, in many ways, Gary Goldie's life is part of that story too.
Fried duck egg, scarlet elf cups, foraged herbs (main picture)
Free range duck eggs
Scarlet elf cups
Wild herbs like:
Young dock leaf
Ground elder shoots
Wild garlic shoots
I get my duck eggs from Dalmally, the next village along from mine. I pick them up myself and watch the ducks graze in their field on a hill with a stream going through it.
This inspired my forager's breakfast, all the ingredients grow together nearby.
The fungi is quite easy to identify, though collect the elf cups with an expert first to be 100% sure.
A few of the herbs are obvious, like dandelion, dock leaf, nettles and wild garlic; again be 100% sure you are picking the correct thing.
1Carefully wash and clean the elf cups.
2Wash the herbs, spin them out to dry.
3Fry off the duck eggs in oil, adding a knob of butter at the last minute and spoon the foaming butter over the yolk to finish of cooking the white.
4Remove to a jiffy cloth, draining any fat then put on a plate.
5In the same pan fry off the elf cups in more butter if needed, add the docks, nettles, wild garlic, lesser celandine, fry for a minute, season with salt and remove to a jiffy cloth.
6Spoon the elf cups and wilted herbs around the plate.
7Garnish with nice plushes of the rest of the herbs and serve.
Gary Goldie will be blogging about the foraging season for Herald Scotland starting from next week. Follow him on Twitter