Updated: Apr 9, 2020
"It’s just a real pleasure to escape to the countryside, enjoy the sunshine and natures larder"
I remember being absolutely thrilled to go mushroom picking with my grandparents back in Russia. I was always given a woven basket, a Swiss Army knife probably too sharp for my own good and a bandana which made me feel pretty bad ass. As a kid, my mushroom hunting abilities were that of a truffle pig, and I recall the excitement of finding juicy chanterelles and birch boletes as well as the overly dramatic agony when stepping on them. I’ve always enjoyed my adventures in the evergreens, and remain immensely thankful for being exposed to nature and having the opportunity to connect with it from a young age. My grandmothers famous words “It’s not dirt, it’s soil” have shaped and influenced my appreciation for the earth and all that comes from it. Fast forward 20 years, I remain pleasantly surrounded by a community of people within hospitality who hold similar values when it comes to nature.
Within this community, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Sean Williams, one of UK’s award winning Michelin standard chefs, and passionate foragers. Growing up next to a National Trust woodland, Sean spent many of his childhood days exploring the woods and discovering the wild delights they have to offer. These days, he’s pushing on as a private hire chef with some of UK’s top names and sharing his childhood passions through
Sean-In-The-Woods: an experience-driven foraging excursion, inclusive of educational methods for outdoor cooking and of course…food. Recently, Sean has purchased his very own woodland: a five acre piece of land that’s soon be transformed into a fairytale-like camping experience. Nathan and I have had the pleasure of receiving a tour of the forest that serves as a canvas for Sean’s passions and chat with him about foraging.
What’s your earliest foraging memory?
“My earliest foraging memories are with my grandmother. We would go walking in the mountains of the Garfagnana in Tuscany collecting porcini mushrooms which was what everyone in the village did as soon as the sun came up. It was always almost a race.
I was so surprised when I realized that very few people picked them in UK.”
Have you ever eaten something you shouldn’t have?
“Not really, I’m always very cautious when picking or collecting anything.
I have accidentally put a spicy hot Russula fungi in a good batch and it turned them all really spicy. Never have I made this mistake again.”
When you’re going foraging, do you know what you’re searching for, or is it spontaneous?
“I don’t often go searching for anything particular unless I’m collecting something for someone. I think it takes the fun out of it. I love finding new spots and surprising myself.
It makes it exciting. I’d go back to the same areas if I’m in a hurry or want a good yield. I also often revisit the bountiful areas to double check it’s still there during the seasons but still try to discover new areas.”
"...wild mushrooms, wild garlic and a poached egg. It’s such a great way to start the day."
What’s your favourite time of year for gathering wild ingredients?
“I love foraging in late spring. There is an abundance of beautiful wild foods and the fungi starts to flourish… and they don’t stop! You also start to see all the fruit blossoming so you know it won’t be long until a good harvest. It’s just a real pleasure to escape to the countryside, enjoy the sunshine and natures larder.”
How has foraging shaped your cooking style?
“Foraging has changed the way I look at food shaped my appreciation of where it comes from and when it is in season. I also love to cook things that grow together. I find they often work well together and help me create an image for what I'm going to cook.”
When hosting Sean in the Woods events, what’s the most common question from your guests?
“When I do the foraging walks I point out a couple of plants that are edible and for at least the next 5 minutes all I hear is “Sean…can I eat this…..?” To everything we’re walking passed. Eventually we find something in abundance or a group favorite that we decide to collect for a feast.”
What’s your favourite “wild” meal?
“One of my favourite wild meals is so simple and it reminds me of cooking and picking mushrooms with my grandma. We would always have left over wild mushrooms on toast. So I freshly bake English muffins, and top it with wild mushrooms, wild garlic and a poached egg. It’s such a great way to start the day.
Also the guests love that they cook their own bread and picked the mushrooms they are eating for breakfast all before 9am”
Photography by Nathan Snoddon, Food Story Media
Written by Alla Malina, Food Story Media