Foraging for beginners – and chefs of luxury hotels!

By Tim Hall, executive chef at Burgh Island Hotel

When we think about foraging food, more often than not, it conjures up images of searching for food that is in short supply in the wild . We certainly don’t associate it with luxury. But foraging can be an invaluable tactic in the playbook of hospitality businesses catering to large, luxury clientele by responding to increasing consumer demand for local, sustainable, and plant-based cuisines.

In fact, a recent survey indicated that nearly 75% of UK adults are interested in wild foraged food. Moreover, the pandemic has massively boosted consumer interest in the area, with social media activity reflecting an increase of 89% in attention afforded this hitherto underappreciated pastime.

With four restaurants across a historic 1920s hotel on a semi-isolated tidal island off the Devon coast, catering staff at Burgh Island Hotel have become well-versed in the art of foraging. Tim Hall, the hotel’s Executive Chef, shares his tricks of the trade when it comes to foraging food for first-class dining…

Returning to your roots

Foraging starts at home. Indeed, practising with homegrown produce is the best way to attune your sense to the challenge of foraging in the wild. If chefs can get creative in the kitchen, then they can do the same in the garden, growing ingredients which bolster the palate of their dishes.

At Burgh Island, for example, the catering team works closely with the resident gardener, Apple, to cultivate a diverse array of produce which compliments the other elements of the hotel’s bespoke menus. But home-growing does not have to begin and end with fruit and veg, as hotels such as The Pig now use their own garden produce to enhance the drinks they create behind the bar. The fruits of foraging can therefore be surprisingly versatile.

Deliciously local

Growing your own produce establishes a good grounding, with the likely progression to looking further afield for produce to forage. Except you may not have to travel all that far, given that everyone’s local area contains a surprising amount of hidden gems. From picking berries on nearby bushes to fishing in local waters, the key to unearthing your next culinary diamond is to explore every opportunity on your path – sometimes literally!

Sourcing produce as locally as possible is particular important for hotels because guests often expect their experiences to reflect the uniqueness of the place they are staying. And this taste for local identity has only grown more popular in the wake of the pandemic, with travel restrictions opening Brits’ eyes to the dining delights right on their doorstep. It is therefore vital that chefs seize every opportunity to accentuate the local flavours in the dishes they craft.

Sumptuous sustainability

Now that 66% of the UK population believe in the importance of considering ethical issues when choosing where to eat, according to a recent survey, dishes based on foraged foods are only going to grow in popularity. The environmental benefits of sourcing produce locally and naturally are obvious, and they will be equally clear to guests hoping to enjoy a guilt-free eating experience on their holidays.

Locally sourced produce is a key ingredient of Burgh Island cuisine, such is the hotel’s commitment to promoting sustainability and strengthening its bonds with the local community. Roughly 80% of the hotel’s produce comes from within a 30-mile radius, including free-range meat from Gribbles Butchers (15 miles), lobsters and scallops from Beesands (10 miles), and oysters and mussels from the Avon Estuary, directly opposite the island. Foraging locally therefore allows both hotels and their guests to benefit from the satisfaction of making delicious food sustainably.

Five-star foraging

By paying close attention to what is in the surrounding gardens and keeping safeguarding the environment top of mind will help ensure that any luxury hotel chefs start their foraging endeavours in a sustainable manner.  Indeed,  culinarily speaking, foraging can be  an artistic venture that inspires even the most accomplished of chefs. Foragers need not compromise on variety, volume, or quality. Conversely, they have a whole smorgasbord of opportunities at their fingertips.

By Tim Hall, executive chef at Burgh Island Hotel

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