02 Jun Foraging in Paris: Daniel Morgan in London
I’ve been a forager since I was knee high, so I couldn’t resist the foraging-inspired menu prepared by Paris-based Daniel Morgan, the current guest chef (till Saturday 10 June) at Carousel London.
Daniel likes to conjure up his dishes from produce foraged from the seaside and countryside. He’s one of the new breed of chef whose global, holistic vision of our ‘One Earth’ means they cross borders like streets, work with passion and tune in with nature.
It all started near Sheffield
Daniel grew up in Chesterfield, near Sheffield, in the North of England. For me, being an ignorant Southerner, he had a lovely Yorkshire accent, but in fact Chesterfield is in Derbyshire. He has worked in some of the world’s top restaurants, including Noma in Copenhagen, Narisawa in Tokyo, Frantzen in Stockholm, and Maze, The Square and Sketch in London.
The UK’s Daily Telegraph called him the ‘Sheffield hotshot’ and the French L’Express “belle gueule et gros talent” – gueule is untranslatable in English; the literal translation is ‘mouth’.
Most recently he has been head chef at Salt Restaurant, in Paris’ 11th district. He has plans afoot to set up on his own in Paris… so watch this space.
We shared a few words together at the end of the evening’s meal at Carousel: he expressed his love for Paris, where he lives in Montmartre; and memories of foraging as a child in the countryside around Sheffield… similar to my experiences of growing up in the New Forest, but whereas Daniel went walking among sheep, I was surrounded by ponies. On his Twitter feed, he says he was “brought up by a badger and an owl”.
When Britain becomes exotic
I find it impossible to find words to describe what we ate that evening; it was such a sublime blend of tastes, colour, textures and consistencies. Neither am I a restaurant critic, just lover.
Daniel’s style gave foraged British produce a feel of the exoticism of the Amazon or the Andes. Of course, a few ingredients came from elsewhere in the world. It’s never good to be too purist. Life needs flexibility.
With such a variety of produce coming from British shores, it made me think of how little variety the modern diet has. The world is home to around 50,000 plants used in medicine (Source: Grow Your Own Drugs – James Wong). We can probably eat many tens of thousands of these varieties, but we don’t. We stick to broccoli, carrots and peas.
Foraging also fits with my belief in the Ayurvedic approach to eating, which I experienced on my trip to Sri Lanka. It’s all about eating fresh, seasonal, varied, as wild as possible and local.
Foraging: a human need
We have a basic need to forage. In consumer society, people go foraging to buy clothes, book holidays, redecorate their homes… they sift through for the bargain that they then pluck and proudly claim as theirs.
Foraging in nature is far more natural, and satisfying. For me, this is because most of human existence has been spent running around in forests and across plains, up hills and down valleys, it’s what we have been used to. Only recently in our evolution have we lived in cities.
“Nature is like a great keyboard on which our highest sentiments are played out. We turn to it, as we might turn to music, to evoke and strengthen the best in us,” writes Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor in Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity.
Unlike foraging, food production, in general, is not about nature. Even when it’s labelled organic. And neither does ‘food production’ provide us with a spiritual balance to our fast-paced digital world.
Photos of the foraging experience with Daniel Thomas
What we ate
Ajo Blanco, Fresh Almonds, Marinated Cucumber, Fermented Cabbage Root
A take on the classic Spanish ajo blanco, a cold almond soup that dates back to the days of the Moors. What a way to start… especially after the Strawberry (Chef) Fields Forever cocktail – Grey Goose Vodka, Noilly Prat Vermouth, lightly pickled strawberries, black peppercorns & basil.
Raw Cuttlefish, Smoked Perilla Vinegar, Ginger, Finger Lime
I would have really loved to unravel the story behind this dish… the inspiration, the choice of ingredients, where the ingredients came from. The menu lets us see the cover of the book; we cannot open the pages to read the magic. Perilla is otherwise known as shiso leaf.
Borlotti Beans, Cockerel Kidneys, Sardine Vinaigrette, Lardo Di Colonnata
My first question here was: where are the cockerel kidneys? They were there, under the lardo, white and creamy to taste. I might not order a whole plate of them – given that I am stupid and squeamish – but they added so much to the taste and texture of the dish.
Arepa, Fermented Mushroom, Goat Bacon, Grasshopper and Sea Lettuce
This took the dishes up one notch even higher. The grasshoppers, served crispy and fried, came from Cornwall – very morish. One of my most exotic experiences in Britain – and not just of food. For more about arepas, much loved in Venezuela, visit my blog post about Taller at Carousel.
Dry-Aged Lamb Shoulder, Juniper, Beach Herbs, Juiced Courgettes
Now, the problem with foraging is that you often cannot predict what you’re going to eat. This item was due to be Dry Aged Goat Shoulder, Wild Celery, Hop Shoots & Ramson Capers. This had filled me with excitement given that:
- I had slow-cooked a goat shoulder for my son’s 21st birthday party, and I wanted to see what Daniel’s version tasted like.
- Wild celery sounded cool – I could imagine myself foraging for that.
- Hop shoots – oh, how this had brought back memories of my trip to France’s Les Grands Causses last June, when we had picked wild hop shoots and made them into omelettes.
- Ramson capers – the seed heads of wild garlic, which flourishes in Britain’s woodlands, picked and pickled. Where can I buy them?
Foraging is not like a supermarket, where you always find apples 12 months of the year, whether they come from the UK, Argentina, France or the US. With foraging, you have to rely on the seasons and nature, and nature is excitingly fickle.
Instead, what we had was equally exciting. The beach herbs were sea lettuce, sea kale, sea aster, rock samphire and water celery, brought back from Daniel’s earlier foraging trip to Cornwall.
Hay Grilled Strawberries, Elderflower Vinegar, Woodruff
Wow. So subtly sweet. So balanced. Hang on, I’m not a food critic, so I won’t get into the descriptions. I have lots and lots of woodruff in my garden. It spreads like mad and has beautiful leaves and flowers.
I would have loved to have talked to Daniel about his gypsy blood; to have heard the story behind each dish – the origin of the produce, how the dish was made, where the inspiration came from – from one of the eight countries where Daniel has lived?
I for one will keep my eye out for when he opens in Paris. In any case it takes as long to get to Paris from London as it does to get to Sheffield – and I bet the Eurostar is more comfortable than the train up North.
As for my foraging, it’s about blackberries, mushrooms, wild apples, sea kale… and now I am going to add the woodruff in my garden.
Oh, and by the way, he has tattooed BUTTER on his left outer wrist and BREAD on his right. Isn’t that the wrong way round? Ah, it’s about thinking outside the box.
Find out more about Carousel’s Guest Chefs; you might also be able to get a reservation for Daniel Morgan before his last night on 10 June.