A Day In The Life Of…

19 Nov 2014
3 min read
Tama Matsuoka Wong is a forager who works closely with Eddy Leroux, the chef de cuisine at Daniel Boulud’s flagship restaurant, Daniel, in New York City. She tells us about her day.

When I first heard someone introduce me as a forager with “products” I was surprised as I hadn’t been thinking about the plants as something I “produced”. I thought of them instead rather as “gifts” from nature and I felt unworthy to take credit for producing them, as I was really only stewarding their way on to the plate. Yet that being said there is an enormous amount of experience, knowledge and skill involved in taking something that is usually unwanted in the wild (a weed or invasive plant to most) and transforming it into something beautiful and delicious. That is what I try to do.

My day if there is an “average” one usually requires a lot of preplanning. I already plan the week before what species are starting to look good because a forager’s seasons are not limited to just the main four: spring, summer, autumn and winter. For me, natural seasons are changing every two weeks and sometimes even less because we aim to pick a certain species when it is at the peak of flavour, texture and looks. Timing is everything.

I also have to plan for the team who should go where depending on skill level and how much of a species there is in a given place. Junior staff are always supervised by senior staff or myself, but everyone picks and develops their skills. We don’t have separation between “marketers” and “pickers”. It takes about a year for someone to learn the basics.

On an average foraging day I wake up with the sun but no later than 7am. I then meet the team or they meet at my place and I have organised whatever we will need (bags, cooler bags, ice packs, clippers) to bring to our destination. I have already obtained permission and scouted out the property from the week before.

We harvest for about 4-5 hours and then I take everything back and store it under cool refrigeration. I need to go meet my daughters at school and then eat dinner with my family (my husband loves to cook). I receive many emails and requests and try to keep on top of them and I try to post an Instagram photo of something I saw in the field.

Before delivery day we check for quality, weigh the portions and label. Clients may have different specifications for even the same plants, depending on how they want to use it (garnish/drinks/ice cream/salad/pickling). These will be organised in separate sections of the cooler. I set aside some small stash for my own family.

I deliver in person to actively talk about each plant, the history, where we found it, some uses, and discuss what will be available for the next week. I also get feedback about the texture, taste, volume, etc. The idea is to work closely with clients so that we can adjust for their particular style and needs. My clients appreciate that we follow a strict practice to harvest only on the highest quality landscapes as well as our sustainability code grounded in ecological principles. I help bring the feeling and knowledge of nature into their kitchens.

Some of the biggest challenges we face are in working with nature and its often unpredictable rhythms. We always have to be able to expect the unexpected. Sometimes this is difficult and we have nothing of a favourite plant one year, sometimes we have to wait several years (wild trees may not “mast” for 3-5 years). So my long-term clients who really understand this appreciate how special the time is when it is a “good year”. None of us take anything for granted. On the other hand, you can sometimes find a huge bounty or an unexpected new plant and then I text from the field. Smartphones have made what I do so much easier.

The best thing about what I do is being in the field. I say to people who join me outside “welcome to my office”. Being in the field is rejuvenating and beautiful in all seasons. And sometimes in the dead of winter when most things look bleak and barren but we are gleaning the weeds, it is most rewarding. The sensations around me are continuously changing and every year there is some new discovery.

I also love the incredible and passionate people that I work with and meet: farmers, conservationists, chefs from many different countries and backgrounds, gardeners, students, writers, professors and academics and really anyone who loves great, pure food.

Find out more atwww.meadowsandmore.com