Dreaming up the menu is always the romantic part of a wild food dinner for me.
The wooing of ideas, the pairing of ingredients, flirting with the flavours; there are so many delicious options it is hard to decide, so the best way to get out my head is to get into the edible landscape, heading for the hills, bush, mountain and coast, each one calling out, beckoning me to discover what is fresh and abundantly available.
Wild food often has its fleeting moments of maturity; ripe one day and over the next. You never know when something you are so sure would work perfectly would suddenly be unavailable, like the Pelargoniums I had envisioned plucked and placed in a little vase for the Botanist dinner diners to forage from on the tables to garnish their own plate – all gone!
Thanks to an unseasonal overnight downpour of rain, all the precious petals were off the bush, damp and strewn on the ground, like walking past the scene of a wedding held the previous day. However, my forager’s luck was in when I remembered a stand of Pelargoniums growing hidden under some tall bushes, and saved.
The endless traipsing and exploring of the veld had served me well. I saw the vivid pink from afar and ran towards the intact flowers.
Flavours that grow together also often pair well, and your ideas change all over again when you are in nature, inspiration coming from the colour hues of the land, imagery of the landscape, the mood of the setting, the season and new growth of fresh botanicals.
Then, the ideas become clearer, and drawing up lists of possible dishes and pairings and sketches of the plating begins, starting a little relationship with each course as I put down visually what I taste in my mind.
My main concept with this dinner was to try and make each course slightly interactive, seasoning the meal with a part of the Botanist’s philosophy of foraging which rings so true to me.
Seared line fish and wild fennel mayo served with beetroot, kale and samphire
- The Botanist gin
- Wormwood/Wild Fennel Cordial
Wild fennel grows abundantly in the Cape, and I really wanted to use it in one of the courses.
The beets and kale were harvested from my garden, and the samphire served in little bunches wedged into empty mussel shells, foraged off the beach for diners to use to season their meal.
This samphire was found on the rocks at the beach, growing like a bushy bonsai rather than the fields of samphire that grow next to marches and estuaries. Because it grows near the sea it is also incredibly salty. (samphire)
Paired with Foraged Corpse, this drink was strong, fresh and citrusy, and the bitters from the wormwood and echo of the fennel worked well with the fish.