THE FOR­AGER

FIND­ING FOOD IN NA­TURE SHOULD COME NAT­U­RALLY, BUT IT HAS ONLY EN­JOYED A VOGUE IN THE PAST DECADE – A WAVE PETER HARD­WICK IS RID­ING.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - FOOD -

Peter Hard­wick was very young when he dis­cov­ered bush­foods. This was both a rev­e­la­tion for a fouryear-old, as he could eat things out of his gar­den, and a health hazard. “There used to be a nurse liv­ing across the road from us and I was down the back of her yard one day ey­ing off the black night­shade,” Hard­wick tells WISH. “I was look­ing at these berries and she knew what was go­ing on and she started yelling at me ‘Don’t you eat those berries, Peter, they are poi­sonous!’ I re­mem­ber think­ing, how do grown-ups know what I was about to do? That was my first warn­ing call.”

Hard­wick is now a pro­fes­sional bush­foods for­ager work­ing for restau­rant Har­vest Newry­bar, gath­er­ing plants from the bush around his home in Byron Bay. He was hired by ex­ec­u­tive chef Bret Cameron in April last year to help pro­vide new ex­per­i­men­tal in­gre­di­ents for his menu. It is an ap­point­ment that could not come soon enough for Hard­wick, who has ded­i­cated a 40-year ca­reer to bush­foods – and now hires bio­chemists to do what the nextdoor neigh­bour did for him all those years ago.

The Queens­lan­der stud­ied hor­ti­cul­ture af­ter school to learn what he calls ba­sic botany. He has since owned a nurs­ery, spent decades con­duct­ing re­search, held talks and tours and worked to com­mer­cialise the field by iden­ti­fy­ing plants and re­nam­ing oth­ers (New Zealand spinach be­came war­ri­gal greens, for ex­am­ple). “Peo­ple have been in­ter­ested but they were also pretty scep­ti­cal, es­pe­cially in the early days,” he says. “I have also had to have day jobs to pay the bills.”

Hard­wick cred­its the Copen­hagen restau­rant Noma (four times voted the world’s best restau­rant) and chef René Redzepi’s tech­niques of for­ag­ing and only us­ing lo­cal in­gre­di­ents as the game changer for him and bush­foods. “What hap­pened was, Aus­tralian chefs went over and stud­ied un­der René and came back to Aus­tralia with those ideas so now I can get a job work­ing with restau­rants and work­ing with chefs,” he says. “It is what I have been wait­ing to do for so long, ba­si­cally since the 1980s.”

But where ex­actly does Hard­wick for­age? “We have some pri­vate prop­er­ties that we can ac­cess and there are coun­cil parks and pock­ets of pub­lic land,” he says. “If there has been a level of ne­glect, that is ac­tu­ally ideal – you may find a patch of un­sprayed weeds and you can for­age those ed­i­ble weeds. Back roads are also re­ally good be­cause there is no pol­lu­tion. But first and fore­most you have to see your­self as cus­to­dian of that plant. When you har­vest, you har­vest the tips of the plants. Es­pe­cially with na­tive plants, you have to be re­ally aware of your im­pact.”

Once Hard­wick dis­cov­ers a plant, he re­searches its uses by indige­nous peo­ple and set­tlers. He then sends it to a bio­chemist for the all clear. “Once we know it is safe, we start play­ing around with it, work­ing with the chefs about how we put it on the menu,” he says. “One we re­cently started us­ing is the coastal tea tree [Lep­tosper­mum lae­vi­ga­tum]. I made it into vine­gar. When you see these in­gre­di­ents go from to­tal ob­scu­rity to be­ing part of a dish and ev­ery­one lov­ing it, it is a real joy.”

W

Peter Hard­wick, left, and Bret Cameron, ex­ec­u­tive chef at Har­vest Newry­bar

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