Iso Rabins has always done a delicate tango around environmental and food regulations. Rabins pioneered the Bay Area’s burgeoning wild-foods movement when he founded ForageSF in 2009, but city health inspectors, noting the potential hazards of eating products gathered in the wild — the best-known of which come in the form of poisonous mushrooms — were never thrilled with his organization or its various commercial offshoots.
Earlier this year, one of Rabins’ signature ventures — the Underground Market, a wildly successful event at which various sub-professional food producers peddled their wares — was shut down by the Department of Public Health, which had previously given the market its tacit blessing. Rabins has since been working to bring the Underground Market into compliance with city law.
But this fall, during that process, he suddenly faced persecution on another front. In October, city officials sent a letter informing him that another series of foraging get-togethers, his so-called Wild Kitchen dinners, could subject him to thousands of dollars in fines. The dinners typically served dozens of patrons, each paying $40 or more for a prix fixe menu of hunted and foraged local foods such as squid, mushrooms, and nettle soup….”
“SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — When Chef Josh Skenes first sought the flavor of Northern California, he went to local growers. Then he went beyond farms, joining a growing number of urbanites who are returning to humanity’s first pursuit – foraging – in a search for food that satisfies a deeper hunger.
Eating foods that grow wild and learning to identify, harvest and prepare them satisfies a need to connect to the environment in a novel way. Plus, food like spicy pods of wild radishes and sweet fennel flowers tastes good, especially in the hands of Skenes, a veteran of top restaurants who is among several high-profile chefs incorporating wild elements into his menu.
Skenes said the greens, roots, flowers and berries that thrive in California’s sun and fog-drenched landscape taste sharper and purer than their farmed cousins.
“How do you find the deepest point in flavor?” he asked. “The wild is usually the answer. You can’t duplicate nature. There is a difference between something that grows naturally and something that is forced.”
Many might doubt the wisdom of eating stinging nettles or the tiny, stringent berries of the pink-flowered currant. But Skenes found an audience among San Francisco’s affluent, food-mad denizens. Demand has pushed him to expand, in one year, from once-a-week suppers to a full restaurant serving an eight-course tasting menu.
He’s in good company. There is plenty of wild food on the city’s best menus, from the venerable Chez Panisse, which has long served wild mushrooms, to Daniel Paterson’s Coi.
Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters said wild foods provide a direct connection to the outside world, untouched by human influence….”