Meet Lori the Forager - one of Jeremy Charles’s Wild Bunch
In his new book, the Newfoundland chef celebrates his best ingredient: his skilled, characterful suppliers
Jeremy Charles, the patron chef of the award-winning Newfoundland restaurant Raymonds, has managed to find culinary fame in the wilds of north-eastern Canada, not only thanks to the region’s incredible natural flora and fauna, but also via the men and women who catch, gather and bring that produce to his restaurant’s doors.
“Over the years, we’ve been able to build up a network of small suppliers who make it all possible,” he writes in his cookbook, Wildness: An Ode to Newfoundland and Labrador. “Without our suppliers, friends, and associates, who work on land and sea, and whose produce ends up on the plates at Raymonds and its sister restaurant, The Merchant Tavern, this book would not be possible.”
Sometimes, Charles and his fellow chefs have to seek out the best fish and game, but in other instances, the food comes to the restaurant. “I showed up at the back door one day with an armful of cattails (bulrush),” recalls the forager Lori McCarthy in her personal essay, reproduced in Wildness. The staff welcomed her in, and soon she was working with Charles and Raymonds sous chef Kyuman Hahn to find new, untapped tastes within Newfoundland’s wildlife.
“I went from knowing maybe a handful of plants to knowing well over one hundred wild, local, edible plants,” she says. “It began with seashore stuff, like oyster plant, goose tongue, lamb’s quarters, sea rocket, Scotch lovage. From there I moved into the woods and into the meadows and started finding things like corn lily, spruce tips, raspberry leaves, and wild hops. Then I started working on pickling things and grinding tamarack into salts and sugars so you can get that freshness in the winter. Realising how well the wild plants go with game meat was such a revelation. Caribou seasoned in tamarack salt and wild local juniper is incredible—it’s amazing to be able to echo what those wild animals eat on a plate.”
She might have learned a lot working with Raymond’s staff, but McCarthy actually spent her childhood foraging – though they didn’t call it that, back then.
“When we grew up, it was called picking,” she remembers. “We grew up picking mussels on the beach, picking dandelion greens in the springtime, picking berries all day long in the barrens. You’d start with bakeapples, because they’re the first to come, then blueberries and partridgeberries, then cranberries. By the age of twelve or so you’d really be expected to contribute. Because that was the only time of year that we’d get that kind of fruit. Because there were no freezers, women would spend the fall bottling up all the berries, turning them into jam and preserves.”
Drawing on the work of culinary pioneers on the far side of the Atlantic - "I was looking at what Scandinavian chefs were putting on their plates and saying: 'Hey, we got that here, too!’” she says – McCarthy developed her childhood hobby into a career, supplying chefs and launching her own tourism company, Cod Sounds, to allow visitors to enjoy the flavours of the region.
“Cod Sounds is about giving other people the experience of having a boil-up on the beach like we had when I was younger,” she says. “I want them to be able to taste our cuisine, our ingredients: real, local Newfoundland home cooking. The wild game, the fish, the scallops. And I want them to experience it in the woods or the barrens, cooked over an open flame, with a mug of tea, some tea buns, and seaweed butter.
"I take people out and boil up a cod’s head stew, teach them about where we’re from, about wild food and the land, about the old and the new. I want others to have an understanding of what it’s like to live in Newfoundland; to appreciate it like I appreciate it. I feel that if I can share our stories, and that people walk away with a little piece of Newfoundland in their heart, then my work is done.”
Would you like a little piece of that place, but can’t make it to Newfoundland? Then order a copy of Wildness, which includes Jeremy Charles's incredible recipes featuring McCarthy’s ingredients.