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Culinary revolution as Scotland's top chefs go wild for foraged ingredients

Inspired by the international success of Danish restaurant Noma, Scotland's top chefs are sparking a culinary revolution as the country goes wild for naturally foraged wild foods harvested fresh from nature's larder.

According to leading Scottish food forager Mark Williams, the current generation of Scottish epicures is embracing the ethos of cooking with natural local ingredients, often found in hedgerows and fields. The trend has seen the Copenhagen eaterie earn two Michelin stars and the title of Best Restaurant in the World.

"Introducing them to the hundreds of flavours that abound in the Scottish countryside is like giving an artist a new colour to paint with," said Williams, the country's only full-time foraging tutor.

"These aren't foods that have been produced for mass consumption by agri-business, they're the ingredients that nature wants to be there at the time they're meant to be, and that's something that's really captured the imagination."

Williams works with a growing list of top chefs inspired by Noma to learn about the foods and flavours growing wild in the parks, hedgerows and countryside. The Gleneagles Hotel's Andrew Fairlie, one of only 11 chefs in the world to hold two Michelin stars, is a pupil.

Williams's work also extends to the cocktail bar and he is helping leading mixologists such as the Kelvingrove Café's Danny Whelan adopt the same ingredients to create new, uniquely Scottish drinks.

While Noma's international renown has influenced the wild food revolution, Williams stresses that, rather than aping Danish cuisine, Scotland's foodies are creating a flavour of their own.

"Noma is certainly a figurehead of the foraging movement and leads the way in many respects, but it's the spirit rather than the specific recipes that is inspiring them," he said. "What's important is cooking dishes using fresh, local, seasonal foods to create recipes that have a unique relationship with the time and the place you're in, and that's what's creating the enthusiasm."

Williams claims to be able to locate 250 plants and fungi - offering an array of flavours from curry to coconut - within a 10-minute walk from his home. Hogweed seeds, for example, have a burned orange flavour that lends itself to rich puddings and cocktail bitters.

"Name any spice or herb, from any part of the world, and I can show you a naturally occurring alternative on the same taste spectrum," he said. "It's a life of constant joy and sorrow because these foods vanish within weeks of first appearing, but every week brings fresh flavours to enjoy and experiment with."

Williams, who began foraging as a 16-year-old working in a kitchen on Arran, says that, while Scotland's wild foods offer an abundant natural larder, caution is advised. He had been collecting and identifying mushrooms for two years before becoming confident enough to eat some, and recommends beginners avoid anything they are not 100% sure is completely safe.

While many kitchens are too busy to tramp across the countryside in search of potential condiments, Williams says that increasing numbers of restaurants include foraging time in their schedules.

He regularly takes chefs into the countryside to learn about wild food. Despite rising excitement around the flavours and seasonality that foraged ingredients can add to menus, however, he regularly declines requests from restaurants to supply ingredients. "Foraged ingredients may be great for reducing costs and increasing profitability, but I'm opposed to the widespread commoditisation of wild foods," he said. "For me, the wild food revolution is not simply about using natural ingredients.

"At least half the pleasure is in the getting, in walking through the outdoors and connecting with the seasons. You can't buy that in a supermarket."

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