Local Treasures Through Foraging

Local Treasures Through Foraging

The Call of the Wild Greens

I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of a plant nerd. Something about the intricate dance of nature, the way each species finds its niche and plays its part in the grand symphony of the ecosystem, it just captivates me. So when I first stumbled upon Camperdown Elm, a charming Brooklyn restaurant with a menu that reads like a love letter to the local flora, I knew I had to dive in and uncover their secrets.

You see, Camperdown Elm isn’t your average farm-to-table joint. No, this place takes the concept of hyper-local sourcing to a whole new level, tapping into the rich bounty that lies right under our noses – or rather, at our feet. The brains behind this culinary operation, husband-and-wife team Akiva and Alison Hersh, are passionate foragers, scouring the urban wilds for the most untapped and underappreciated ingredients.

“When we first started the restaurant, we knew we wanted to showcase the incredible biodiversity right here in Brooklyn,” Akiva tells me as we wander through the restaurant’s backyard garden. “So much of the produce we use comes from just a few miles away – sometimes even from right here on this very plot of land.”

As we stroll, he points out clusters of vibrant greens peeking out from beneath the soil – wild arugula, purslane, and a tangle of sorrel leaves that practically beg to be plucked and savored. I’m struck by the sheer abundance of edible treasures flourishing all around us, just waiting to be discovered.

A Culinary Expedition, One Leaf at a Time

Akiva’s eyes light up as he shares the story behind Camperdown Elm’s foraging-focused approach. It all started, he explains, with a deep fascination for the natural world – a passion he and Alison have nurtured since childhood.

“Growing up, we both spent a lot of time outdoors, exploring the woods and fields near our homes,” he reminisces. “We’d pick wild berries, nibble on clover, and marvel at the diversity of plants all around us. That sense of wonder and connection to the land never really left us.”

So when they decided to open their own restaurant, it only made sense to build it around that same ethos of reverence for the natural bounty. But it wasn’t just about showcasing the obvious superstars – the vibrant greens, the tart berries, the pungent herbs. No, Akiva and Alison were determined to shine a light on the unsung heroes, the oft-overlooked weeds and wild plants that most people dismiss as mere nuisances.

“There’s this whole parallel culinary universe just waiting to be discovered,” Akiva muses, plucking a handful of dandelion leaves and presenting them to me like a treasured bouquet. “These greens are not only edible, but they’re packed with nutrients and have such a unique flavor profile. Why shouldn’t they be celebrated on the same level as the kale or the arugula?”

As I listen, I can’t help but nod in eager agreement. After all, who am I to argue with a man so clearly enamored with the magic of the wild?

Foraging for Flavor

Back in the kitchen, I watch in awe as Alison and her team work their culinary wizardry, transforming those humble foraged ingredients into dishes that are nothing short of transcendent. The wild arugula, for instance, becomes the star of a bright, peppery salad, its pungent flavor amplified by a tart vinaigrette and crunchy toasted seeds.

And the dandelion greens? They find their way into a vibrant pesto, which Alison then uses to elevate a simple pasta dish, the bitterness of the leaves offset by the richness of the cheese and the pop of freshly squeezed lemon.

But the real showstopper, in my opinion, is the soup. Alison has crafted a silky, verdant concoction using a medley of foraged greens – sorrel, purslane, chickweed, and more – each one contributing its own unique flavor and texture. The result is a symphony of tastes and sensations, from the bright, lemony tang of the sorrel to the delicate, almost succulent mouthfeel of the purslane.

“We really want people to rethink what they consider ‘food,'” Alison explains as she plates the soup, garnishing it with a scattering of edible flowers. “These are the plants that have sustained humans for millennia, but so often they get overlooked in favor of the more conventional produce.”

I eagerly take a spoonful, and the flavors explode on my tongue – earthy, herbaceous, with just the right balance of richness and acidity. It’s a revelation, a culinary experience that transports me straight to the heart of the urban wild.

Cultivating Curiosity, One Bite at a Time

As I savor each course, I can’t help but marvel at the sheer passion and dedication that Akiva and Alison have poured into this project. They’re not just running a restaurant; they’re on a mission to reconnect people with the natural world, to foster a deeper appreciation for the abundance that lies all around us.

“There’s so much to discover, if only we take the time to look,” Akiva tells me as we sip coffee in the cozy dining room. “Every plant has a story, a role to play in the larger ecosystem. And when you start to understand those stories, it opens up this whole new way of engaging with your environment.”

He pauses, a mischievous glint in his eye. “Plus, it makes for some pretty incredible meals, don’t you think?”

I can’t help but agree. As I leave Camperdown Elm, my head buzzing with newfound culinary knowledge and my tastebuds still tingling from the flavors, I feel a sense of wonder and appreciation that I haven’t experienced in a long time. This isn’t just a restaurant – it’s a portal into a whole other world, one where the line between the cultivated and the wild blurs, and the true riches of the land are there for the taking.

And to think, it all started with a few humble weeds and a relentless pursuit of flavor. Who knows what other local treasures await, just waiting to be discovered?