It's no secret organic living and sustainable eating have become mainstream notions. But if you dig deeper, you'll find a select group that takes the hunt for quality ingredients a step beyond the rest of us. Although not a foreign notion, foraging is mostly left to the experts, those with a true passion for the trade and the innate skills to find bona fide culinary treasures in the middle of a forest.
Probably the most well known of these foraging troops is Mikuni Wild Harvest, a 20-year-old company started by three committed individuals that has grown to a team of six sales reps in distribution centers throughout the United States and Canada. From Thomas Keller to Whole Foods, Mikuni supplies some of the very best names in the business. Luckily for us, we were able to catch Tyler Gray, co-founder of Mikuni, to talk about how he got started with foraging and how the food industry is experiencing a revolution like no other.
A somewhat unusual profession, it seems foraging isn't something one just stumbles into, at least not in Tyler's case. "My mom taught me how to forage at a pretty young age," he said. "It became something fun we did together while I was growing up and to this day for that matter." But it does go beyond experience and upbringing. When you are this energetic about your work, you want to share it with the world.
"The tremendous respect I have for the chefs we
serve and ingredients we purvey has fueled
"This continues to feed me and drives me to try to bridge the gap between mainstream and wild foraged foods," Tyler said. "It feels like a calling."
And it seems the gap between farm and table is smaller now than ever before, at least in what a 20 or 30-something has seen in his or her lifetime. Organic isn't just a word for the food co-ops and specialty markets anymore - walk into most major grocery stores and you'll find at least a small section of organic produce and dry goods. But why the sudden change in consciousness? "I’m not sure I can quote a particular event that has led to this shift, I simply think we are becoming more aware as a species," Tyler said.
"We tend to ask 'why' more often about many different aspects of the American industrial food institution, and it can reveal some shocking and utterly depressing answers and inspire a spark and shift of behavior and patterns. Hence the revival of the farmers markets, small artisan food producers, foragers and countless other emerging forces that are helping to shape and redefine how we look at this idea of feeding our nation in a responsible and healthy manner. It’s a very exciting time to be involved in this industry."
And speaking of the industry, Tyler and Mikuni have worked with some of the most talented chefs in the country from coast to coast. From the iconic French Laundry in California to Eataly in NYC, Tyler has foraged for the best of the best. So when asked if he has a favorite meal, he obviously couldn't choose just one. "There are way too many dishes and names to mention, but some of my most memorable meals have happened at Charlie Trotters, Per Se, McCrady's, The French Laundry and Avenues, when Curtis Duffy was at the helm. Recently, I had a ridiculous meal by chef Justin Cogley at L’Auberge Carmel. I do however still dream about a Matsutake mushroom, Yuzu & custard dish I had at Spago in L.A. like six years ago. It was perfect."