I was delighted to be joined by my great pal James Golding the chef director of THE PIG Group of Hotels who has provided some wonderful recipes using my favourite wild ingredients.
In 2010 I was offered an opportunity that I couldn’t refuse. It would give me the chance to share my wealth of self-taught knowledge about the New Forest and surrounding areas to visitors. I became the foraging guide for the exclusive Lime Wood Group of hotels. To kick things off, in the spring of that year I was asked to ‘bring a couple of baskets of foraged ingredients’ for a photo shoot with the chefs. ‘A couple of baskets they said?’ It was time to use my foraging know-how to produce a mighty impressive and tasty trove. I was on it!
As temperatures rise in the spring, wild edible plants thrive in the damp soil. There was a bounty to choose from and I quite literally filled the back of my estate car with as many varieties of wild goodies as I could fit, all freshly picked that morning and placed in buckets of water to keep fresh. On arrival at the hotel I grabbed one of the pretty wicker trollies that the porters use for transporting guest’s luggage. I then set to work creating a mind-blowing display of delicious, edible greens and flowers. There I had it; a perfect cartload of totally wild, freshly gathered and completely free ingredients. I made my way to the rear terrace of the hotel where the photo shoot would take place and as my overflowing cartload and I made our entrance we were greeted with, ‘What’s all that?’ I simply replied, ‘That’s all edible, hah.’ That was my first encounter with chef James Golding. He was blown away.
Little did I know that as a youngster his father had taken him foraging and in that instant I had transported him back to his youth. His enthusiasm was bubbling over. James was tearing off fragments of plants and nibbling at them asking, ‘What’s this one? Where did you pick this? How did you learn all this stuff?’ It was clear that we had a lot to talk about. I explained to James how I’d become a hunter gatherer
and that it had all stemmed from my lifelong curiosity of edible wild food and my own interest in cooking that had been with me since
childhood. If something from the wild was edible I had a compulsion to learn all about it. I could tell that James’s mind was in overdrive. I’d taken him back to his youth and he was buzzing with excitement. My display of tastes, textures, colours and flavour combinations were giving James some truly inspirational and great ideas.
As it turned out, this wasn’t just a casual meeting; we were destined to become friends for life.
Years on I’m still bringing wild edible goodies into James’s kitchens and I even still manage to surprise him every once in a while! It’s a delight to take visitors into the New Forest to share a few of its secrets and return a few hours later with laden baskets for the chefs to cook a culinary delight for our guests. Sometimes you make your luck and once in a while there’s a generous dollop of serendipity to finish the dish!
When I came to write Wildcook - ceps, shrubs & rock 'n' roll, there was only one person I wanted alongside me and that was the incomparable James Golding.