Thinkhouse

YOUTH 08

URBAN FORAGING

Kevin Powell is one of the two minds behind the Dublin Cafe Meet Me in the Morning. A cafe in Dublin? What?? Well, what if we told you that this cafe uses foraged foods? And no, we aren’t talking about freegan style dumpster diving. We’re talking about what we used to do way back when... like, 1.8 million years ago. Life was pretty simple back then, so a return to foraging can only be a good idea.

Meet Me in the Morning started off just over a year ago, but the ethos behind it has been going on for much longer. Kevin started with News of the Curd six years ago, which saw people hanging out in Kevin’s apartment every Wednesday eating food he bought from the Temple Bar Market.

“Then, on the Thursday, I’d release all the recipes and then you could go and buy it. It was a donation based thing for two years straight in my apartment, every Wednesday you’d just rock up. We set six people at the start, the biggest we set was 26 people.”

Kevin went on to set up Gruel Guerilla five years ago. Gruel Guerilla came from a simple idea: “Basically I wanted my friend’s cafes to have more people going into them.” So Kevin held one-off events to draw people in and raise awareness of the various cafes and venues. The last meal with Gruel Guerilla was last Christmas.

We ended up doing a 15 course meal. Each dish was focused on the producer or a single ingredient and then Brian (the other chef of Meet Me in the Morning) came to me about bringing that here and we kind of amalgamated that idea into a cafe and it became what the kitchen is now.”

Having a natural love for local producers and making sure every single dish was local, it was only natural that Kevin got into foraging. Curiosity about what could be foraged in the city sparked their interest.

“Basically, myself and Keith Williams, the other chef I work with, were like, ‘What’s actually in this city?’ because neither of us can drive so we are not going to the Wicklow Mountains to go foraging. So, we asked, ‘What’s in a 30-40 minute cycle from here that we can get?” And, we were shocked by the stuff you could get.”

Obviously in big parks you’re going to find some gems, but in a city like Dublin, you’d be surprised on what you can actually find.

“There’s plums and sumac and fig trees in Smithfield. You’ve got wild fennel, blackberries and crabapples in the docks. You’ve got alexanders and cowslips all around Irishtown. You’ve got mushrooms and sweet chestnuts in the Phoenix Park. You’ve chickweeds, elderflower and loads of wild flowers, loads of wild garlic and three cornered leeks in Bushy Park.”

That’s pretty damn impressive. It’s shocking to think that we have all this stuff hiding in plain sight. WE COULD BE EATING FOR FREE, PEOPLE!

Kevin has been foraging for the last three years but he admits he’s still finding his feet. “Last year we moved into mushrooms. I’ve never served someone a mushroom yet. I’ve eaten them myself, but I’m still not confident enough, I’m still so scared. It’s the only thing that gives me the heebee jeebees and I’m always like ‘Oh, do I want to? No, I’m not going to risk it.’”

That’s the tip when you first start foraging. If you don’t know about something or are a little unsure, better to ask someone who does know and that way, you can avoid a trip to the hospital.

Or if you don’t know someone, look it up. “There is a book called Food For Free and it’s been published loads and it is an amazing reference book. It’s for the UK but pretty much covers us, and it’s full of illustrations and information. It’s great.”

Another good thing to note is that you kind of already know what is and isn’t good to eat. Well, your body knows. “Things that don’t want to be eaten, you have an inherent natural sense that says, ‘No, no, no, that’s going to do me a damage.’ Waxy leaves or a strong smell, the moment you taste it you get a dry mouth, your body doesn’t want it, your body knows to stay away.”

There has been a rise in foraging in the last few years and Kevin credits this to social media, and people actually starting to give a damn about what they eat. “Food has become more of an interest. And social media makes us more connected with visuals and, with confidence, people can pick things.”

It also has to do with our diverse culture. Foraging isn’t inherently Irish. It is huge in central Europe and the people that have moved to Ireland have brought more knowledge of what we could be doing with food, how we can pickle, ferment and preserve it.

So, with the rise of foraging also comes the rise of people wanting to ferment their own food. “Fermentation has become so much more at the forefront of people learning what food can be. People are openly sharing knowledge with what is going on at the moment; people are more willing to share the recipes.”

As to what the future of food could be? Maybe it is going back to the past. “We don’t work 40 hours anymore so we have time and this can become an aspect in people’s lives. The future will probably be insects and more foraging. More seeing what the land gives us.”

And this is something we can get behind. So, put back that bunch of garlic and forget about buying apples. Get on your bike and see what hidden treasures you can find in your local park, or the overhanging gardens of your neighbours. Let’s eat for free!

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