What do you think of when you visualise foraged food? The concept can have very different connotations to people, often conjuring up images of bitter dandelion soup, herbal teas and mysterious unidentifiable pieces of meat, some of which may or may not be pigeon.
An eating experience with wild food network The Foragers is a different affair. Since launching two years ago, co-founders George Fredenham and Gerald Waldeck have been banishing misconceptions about wild food with their foraged food and cocktail menus at the Verulam Arms in St Albans and various London residencies.
The man behind the Verulam Arms menu is head chef Tommy Forrester, whose skills have enabled The Foragers to elevate their basic dishes to restaurant-style food and gain a place in the Good Food Guide.
"Tommy has really helped us take our wild food to another level," explains George. “Our focus was originally on nice wholesome dishes which incorporated wild elements like game and plants, but Tommy has helped us refine our dishes to make specific plants and wild ingredients the main focus."
Mobility is key to the way The Foragers work, with London pop-ups a crucial part of their network. One of their most popular residencies to date was at Dalston cocktail bar Dead Dolls Club. For Director Katy Gray Rosewarne, the foraging menu was an experiment she's ready to repeat.
“Our wild grazing menu had a fantastic reception," she recounts. “The Foragers really take it to the next level by employing their own huntsmen and foragers to go out shooting and gathering from the British countryside."
It's not only food; foraged cocktails are now in high demand. The range of foraged forest liquors and bitters on offer are produced using a mixture of wild herbs, plants and aromatic barks steeped in alcohol and plans are afoot for a range of wild plant syrups.
“That part of the business has snowballed," explains George. “It's been really well-received by people looking for something different to drink who want to invent their own blends of wild cocktails."
So what was the spark that led a former City analyst to hang up his suit and partner with Gerald Waldeck, a retired master baker whom George describes as having 'his head stuck in a hedgerow'?
“One day I was sitting in a meeting and thinking about food, not even listening to what the people around me were saying. It was then I realized that it wasn't for me.
Gerald and I both have very simple feelings for food. We were keen on responsible farming and using local, sustainable produce but Gerald really opened my eyes to the untapped potential of wild food."
Looking ahead, The Foragers plan to ramp up the research and development side of their business. Future plans include a handmade range of chutneys and pickles that showcase an exotic variety of plants and weeds, one including the dreaded enemy of British gardeners, Japanese knotweed.
“Gardeners absolutely hate it. It's incredibly invasive and overruns gardens in an instant. We have to be incredibly careful when gathering it that none of it gets loose into local habitats, but we really enjoy the challenge of taking something so infamous and crafting an interesting product around it."
The Foragers certainly seem to be on to something. Maybe the solution to the problem of removing this plant pest for good is a simple one – if you can't beat it, eat it.