Chef's Choice: Foraging with Chef Paul Moran 

click to enlarge On the Look out Chef Paul Moran leads a group of foragers into the woods to search for edible wild delights.
  • On the Look out Chef Paul Moran leads a group of foragers into the woods to search for edible wild delights.

Chef Paul Moran doesn't have a hidden hot spot to forage for food, there's no secret stashes here to call his own.

Rather, he's sees the whole valley floor as ripe for the picking, a smorgasbord of gourmet mushrooms, Devil's Club, cattails, Burdock root, and more.

It's all growing wild and ready to be transformed in the kitchen of Aura, in the upscale Nita Lake Lodge.

"Coming here was really exciting for us," he said of his decision to take the job in Whistler, along with his fiancé, a couple of months ago. "Part of the reason that we came here was just having the Whistler Valley on our back doorstep and so many potential foraging spots so close to the hotel."

The key is knowing where and what to look for and with a lifetime of foraging under his belt, Moran wants to show Whistler what it's all about with three-hour foraging classes on Wednesday mornings, followed by a five course chef's dinner at Aura, prepared with their morning spoils.

In a recent class Moran took his students up the road to Cheakamus Lake, gaining some elevation and focusing on alpine plants like Devil's Club shoots and hogweed.

"Both very particular flavours and both quite meaty plants," said Moran. "There's a lot to eat on them... They actually have quite a bit of fibre and it's something you can cook and prepare as a main item for a dish."

He'd never ventured that way before and it turns out they stumbled on a good foraging spot.

"We were lucky enough to find some oyster mushrooms at the same time," he added.

The class then made its way back to the shores of Nita Lake for a full tour around the lake finding Burdock root, sorrel and cattails.

The elderflower season will be starting soon, then the summer mushrooms.

The only downside in Whistler is the shorter growing season, compared to the coast where Moran has spent much of his time foraging.

"It is a great spot to have the valley bottom as a starting point and then to be able to work into the mountains as the summer progresses because foraging is all about elevation," explained Moran.

The first time Moran went out mushroom picking he was 12 years old, side by side with his dad in the forest.

That was 25 years ago, and little did the young Moran know it was an outing that would shape his life. Mushrooms branched out to plants, and seaweed and all kinds of things growing wild.

That early experience marked the beginning of his life-long passion for foraging, one that would shape his professional career in the kitchen, one that would follow in the footsteps of four generations of his family before him.

His great grandmother foraged in the Austrian hills before passing down the custom to his grandfather, then his father and uncles and now to Moran and his brother.

When he moved to Europe to work in French kitchens, he kept up with the tradition.

"I had a chance to work with some of the best foragers in Europe who specialized in plants — for medicinal purposes and for comestible purposes," he said, of the foragers who supply some of the top restaurants in Europe with their bounty.

This past fall, after working as a chef at a fishing lodge in Haida Gwaii, Moran and his fiancé spent two months foraging, drying 3,000 pounds of chanterelle mushrooms, along with seaweeds and other plants.

So what's the key to cooking wild foraged food?

"There's definitely a certain pungency to a lot of them," said Moran. "Part of being a chef is learning how to tame that."

About 30 per cent of the menu at Aura is from wild foods, if the fish is included.

Moran plans to lead the foraging classes throughout May and June and start them up again in the fall.

That's when he wants to start looking for another delicacy — truffles.

"There are British Columbia truffles that grow in the alpine mountains," said Moran. "It's just a question of identifying them and finding them, which is really the hard part."

The three-hour foraging class is $30. Dinner only is $50. Class & dinner is $70.

To lean more call 604-966-5711 or email aura@nitalakelodge.com.

Tempura devils club buds with mushroom broth

24 fresh spring club buds

For the tempura batter

150g Organic G.M.O. free A.P. flour

150ml ice cold soda water

Pinch of salt

Mix the flour, water and salt into a lumpy paste and keep cold, don't over mix!

For the mushroom broth

1l cold water

100g dried wild mushrooms

½ of an onion charred

1 branch celery

1 carrot

1 large leaf of dried kelp

1 tbsp organic tamari

1tsp sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a pot and simmer for an hour, the liquid should be reduced by one third, strain through a fine sieve and serve hot.

To finish the dish dredge the buds in the tempura batter and fry at 350 degrees F. Pat dry on a paper towel and serve on the side with the mushroom broth.

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