Have you ever looked at the environment around you and seen not forests, trees, sidewalks, and weeds – but hunting grounds and wild gardens? This Sunday, a new event is making its debut in Italy to encourage everyone to eat their environment.
The Local Wild Food Challenge is a culinary adventure from start to finish. It gets participants to be resourceful in their communities by gathering wild food and showcasing their creativity in a final, fun cooking competition.
Founder Bill Manson and photographer and travel & culture journalist Robert Morrison visited Wine Pass headquarters to tell us their story and inspiration for the Local Wild Food Challenge.
The seed of the idea began as many do: an idea voiced aloud in a pub. Bill returned to his hometown in New Zealand after several years of world travel with that fresh perspective and appreciation that living abroad so often gives. Upon his return, he noticed how often the people in his community used wild plants and animals they gathered and hunted in their everyday lives. “You got a lot of kudos from using the food you foraged or hunted,” he says, “but it wasn’t celebrated like it should be.”
He spoke of his idea with a friend at a local pub: to encourage people to find wild food in their surroundings, use it in a dish, and share it with others. The idea took root and became a reality in 2008.
After an incredibly successful first edition in New Zealand, the Local Wild Food Challenge gained momentum. The next event was held in Martha’s Vineyard, after which it moved to three more countries: Finland, France, and Italy.
“It’s the ultimate moveable feast,” Bill says. “It can be done anywhere in the world, it’s cross-cultural, and each time you’ve got new characters, environments, and countries.”
Sunday, May 10, 2015 marks the very first time the event comes to Italy. It will be hosted in the fine surroundings of the Verduno Castle in the Langhe. Anyone can participate, and everyone does: from home cooks to professional chefs, children to adults, and from backgrounds as diverse as people can be.
The idea behind the event is the combination of two of Bill’s passions: getting outside and cooking. He wants us to start thinking differently about where we live – to change our own perspectives and develop a new gustatory appreciation for our environment and precious natural resources. The event always brings people together, forming communities of people who get excited about managing local resources and the dishes they cook and share. “I want this to be inclusive, mellow, and fun. That’s why it has been so successful.”
Indeed, it is easy to participate: bring at least one local wild ingredient and include it in a dish that is pre-prepared (if possible; if not, there is also equipment at the Castle of Verduno). The final dishes are entered into a contest that is graded on effort, ingredients, taste, and presentation. The story behind it all is also taken into consideration, of course. “I have boxes of these stories written on anything you can imagine,” Bill says.
When asked what the most interesting or surprising ingredients have been, he stresses that it is not about it being a “freak food show,” but a way to share creative recipes that anyone can do, using ingredients right under our noses.
“That being said, we’ve had some very creative dishes: caramelized cicadas on wild blackberry ice cream; a Native American Indian method of preparing acorns, since they can’t normally be digested; lakeweed from Finland, which is cactus-like in its texture, with fried reindeer lichen; and spirits made from Arctic bramble.” In addition, lately participants have been getting into distilling, fermenting, and brewing. If there’s any place in the world where grapes and wild yeasts can be used as the local wild ingredient, it’s Piemonte.
For more information on this great event, including registration and details about where, when, and what it’s all about, check out our event on Wine Pass or their website, www.localwildfoodchallenge.com.
The Local Wild Food Challenge
Castello di Verduno