It was an early start for our Diploma in Gastronomy, Nutrition and Food Trends students as they prepared to travel across England to the beautiful Seven Sisters Country Park to do a spot of foraging. It may have been a 3-hour journey for them to get from Le Cordon Bleu London to East Sussex, but after the amazing experience that they had whilst there, it was unanimous amongst them that the long journey was definitely worth it.
Firstly, the scenery was breathtaking. Imagine a combination of chalk cliffs, intricate rivers, valleys, grassland and a shingle beach in its most organic form. Most shingle beaches in Britain are manmade but Seven Sisters Country Park is one of only a few that exist naturally. And secondly, but more importantly, the knowledge and practical experience that our students gained during this trip will really benefit them in their current and future culinary careers.
On arrival our students were greeted by Mike de Stroumillo, a wild mushroom expert and local forager with over 30 years of experience. Mike works for Mash Purveyors, which is a premium supplier that delivers the finest hand-picked, fresh fruit and vegetables to some of the most prestigious kitchens in central London, including Le Cordon Bleu London's. Accompanying Mike and our students on the foraging trip was his ever-loyal dog, Halle, who definitely helped to keep our students heading along the right path!
Mike’s foraging expertise was clear from the beginning as he led our students around the park pointing out the wide variety of produce that was available to forage. Berries, suaeda, sea beet – the grandfather of spinach, sea kale, and sea purslane, similar to the kind we are planting on our rooftop garden for the winter. Mike even suggested how our students could use each item during their diploma, for example, sea beet can be used as a garnish to add saltiness to a dish. Whilst tasting the produce, the students commented on the bitterness of some of the items, and Mike simply replied, “In the west we have stripped our diets of bitterness but it is in fact very important for the digestive system and adds different levels and depths to a dish” - bitter food stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid and bile, aiding in digestion, and resulting in more nutrients being absorbed.
Mike went on to explain how foraging is similar to pruning a garden as they share the same principles. Just like trimming perennial plants encourages plentiful growth, picking berries for instance, encourages the plant to produce more in its place. However, Mike also stressed the importance of sustainable foraging, because when you cut a plant at its roots it will die, so you should only take what you need to ensure that the plant will still flourish.
At Le Cordon Bleu London, we think that it is very important for our students to understand the produce that they are working with on the Diploma in Gastronomy, Nutrition and Food Trends - foraging for food is one of the best ways for this to happen. Our students got to see the process that the produce goes through before it is presented to them for cooking, and they were also able to experience the unique qualities of truly fresh fruit and vegetables, and hear about the benefits of using such produce in their dishes.
Our students definitely learnt a lot whilst foraging in Seven Sisters Country Park and we cannot wait to see what amazing dishes that they produce as a result of this inspirational trip!