The Art of Foraging with Sean in the Woods
I remember being absolutely thrilled to go mushroom picking with my grandparents back in Russia. They would always give me a woven basket, a Swiss Army knife (which in retrospect was probably too sharp for my own good), and a bandanna that always made me feel pretty bad ass.
As a kid, my mushroom hunting abilities were that of a truffle pig, and I recall the excitement of finding juicy chanterelles and birch boletes which came hand and hand with the overly dramatic agony of stepping on them. I’ve always enjoyed my adventures in the evergreens. My grandmother’s famous words “It’s not dirt, it’s soil” have shaped my appreciation for the Earth and all that comes from it. Fast forward 20 years, I remain pleasantly surrounded by a community of people who hold similar values when it comes to nature.
Within this community, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sean Williams, one of UK’s award-winning Michelin standard chefs, and a passionate forager. Growing up next to a National Trust Woodland, Sean spent many of his childhood days exploring the woods and discovering the wild delights they offer. These days, he’s pushing on as a private hire chef with some of UK’s top names and sharing his childhood passions through Sean-In-The-Woods.
Sean-In-The-Woods is an experience-driven foraging excursion, inclusive of educational methods for outdoor cooking and of course…food. Below is my interview with Sean on the art of foraging.
Our Interview with Sean in the Woods:
What’s your earliest foraging memory?
“My earliest foraging memories are with my grandmother. We would go walking in the mountains of the Garfagnana in Tuscany collecting porcini mushrooms which was what everyone in the village did as soon as the sun came up. It was always almost a race. I was so surprised when I realized that very few people picked them in UK.”Sean Williams
Have you ever eaten something you shouldn’t have?
“Not really, I’m always very cautious when picking or collecting anything. I have accidentally put a spicy hot Russula fungi in a good batch and it turned them all really spicy. Never have I made this mistake again.”Sean Williams
When you’re going foraging, do you know what you’re searching for, or is it spontaneous?
“I don’t often go searching for anything in particular unless I’m collecting something for someone. I think it takes the fun out of it. I love finding new spots and surprising myself.
It makes it exciting. I’d go back to the same areas if I’m in a hurry or want a good yield. I also often revisit the bountiful areas to double check it’s still there during the seasons but still try to discover new areas.”Sean Williams
What’s your favorite time of year for gathering wild ingredients?
“I love foraging in late spring. There is an abundance of beautiful wild foods and the fungi starts to flourish… and they don’t stop! You also start to see all the fruit blossoming so you know it won’t be long until a good harvest. It’s just a real pleasure to escape to the countryside, enjoy the sunshine and natures larder.”Sean Williams
How has foraging shaped your cooking style?
“Foraging has changed the way I look at food shaped my appreciation of where it comes from and when it is in season. I also love to cook things that grow together. I find they often work well together and help you create an imagine in my head.”Sean Williams
When hosting Sean in the Woods events, what’s the most common question from your guests?
“When I do the foraging walks I point out a couple of plants that are edible and for at least the next 5 minutes all I hear is “Sean…can I eat this…..?” To everything we’re walking passed. Eventually we find something in abundance or a group favorite that we decide to collect for a feast.”Sean Williams
What’s your favourite “wild” meal?
“One of my favourite wild meals is so simple and it reminds me of cooking and picking mushrooms with my grandma. We would always have the left over wild mushrooms on toast. So I freshly bake English muffins, and top it with wild mushrooms, wild garlic and a poached egg. It’s such a great way to start the day.
Also the guests love that they cook their own bread and picked the mushrooms they are eating for breakfast and is not even 9 am”Sean Williams