Finders Keepers/The Wild Foraging Heroes of Vancouver Island – Part Two

Finders Keepers – Part Two

If you’ve ever picked blackberries at the side of the road, you’ve engaged in the act of foraging, an act that has sustained peoples and cultures since time immemorial. On Vancouver Island, foraging is seeing a resurgence as restaurateurs, chefs and artisanal food crafters take to the wilds. From stinging nettles and seaweed to spruce tips and sea salt, a new arsenal of ingredients are being used to accent, infuse and flavour, and change the way we think about sustainability.

Bill Jones / Deerholme Farm

Bill Jones, chef, author, and champion of wild edibles recalls his first wild mushroom experience as a young chef apprentice in 1999. “I was working at the two-Michelin-star Hostellerie La Cheneaudiere in Alsace, France,” he says, “ and an old villager used to deliver ceps (porcini) to the back door of the restaurant. Over a couple of beers I convinced him to show me the ropes – with the promise I would never return or tell any of the locals of my discoveries. He gave me amazing info drawn from a life of foraging, not based on books, but of observing the terrain, plants and weather of the region,” he notes. “That started me on the foraging path.”
Returning from France, Jones’s eyes opened to the vast array of wild mushrooms available in BC, and his newly-found curiosity quickly evolved into a passion. He has penned 10 books on cooking and foraging, with number 11 – the just released, The Deerholme Foraging Book – highlighting wild plants, seaweed, shellfish and mushroom, and already in its second pressing! It’s fitting that his Deerholme Farm and Cooking School, which he’s operated for the last 13 years, is located in the rich wild abundance of the Cowichan Valley. Mushrooms such as cauliflower, yellow and white chanterelles, hedgehog, pine, lobster and morels are just a few of the varieties he’s come across. “We do workshops, mainly on foraging,” Jones explains. “Spring on greens and wild plants and morels, and Fall it’s all mushrooms.” (It was while attending his Spring foraging class that I first became acquainted with miner’s lettuce, a delicious wild green I can now spot all over my urban Victoria neighbourhood).


“The focus in not on picking but learning and identifying,” he says about the classes. “You’re looking for conditions. Like an apple on an apple tree, it’s part of a larger organism. You’re looking for moss, the drainage. So I’m teaching the conditions of the terrain,” he says. Besides mushrooms, Jones has a love for Stinging Nettles. He prefers to blanch them and make a Japanese dish, gomae, with soy and sesame, eaten cold as a side salad. “ We make a big batch of it and keep it in the fridge.”

Diane Bernard / Seaflora

“Foraging is not for sissies,” exclaims Diane Bernard, aka the Seaweed Lady. She has foraged and hand-harvested seaweeds in the ocean garden between Sooke and Jordan River for the last 12 years, often hauling 50-pound containers in the process.
From the 700 species known in our BC waters, Bernard counts 12 edible varieties in her arsenal – in various colours, shapes and taste profiles. Her trade in algae began by working with chefs and conducting hands-on intertidal workshops on the nutritional benefits, cultural uses and preparation of seaweed. Her business has evolved into Seaflora, a USDA certified organic seaweed skincare line, and the only one of its kind in the world. As Bernard likes to say, “I’m creating sea change in the health and wellness industry. It’s good for your skin – and you can eat it too!” She also has assistants now to help her with those buckets! A daily consumer of seaweed, her favourite is Alaria – aka Winged Kelp. “It’s not too salty and full of fibre,” she says. “It can be used like pasta – it holds together very well.” She suggests layering it like lasagna with clams, mussels and tomatoes. Bake until the ‘noodles’ turn a bright green. Despite her success, at heart, she says, “ Fundamentally, I’m still a forager.”


To read Part One of Vancouver Island’s Foraging Heroes, click here!

One Response to “Finders Keepers/The Wild Foraging Heroes of Vancouver Island – Part Two”

  1. […] Find Part Two of Vancouver Island’s Foraging Heroes here! […]

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