The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2014

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july 2014  /  the tasting panel  /  107 Pascal, a wiry Belgian who's been leading foraging trips through the wilds of Southern California for the better part of a decade, has had a major impact on the L.A. food scene, helping develop the now-flourishing farm-to-table and locovore movements by bringing some of the cities top chefs to hidden moun- tains, woods and canyons, where they've learned to forage the food that ends up on their gourmet plates. A true wild food gastronomer, Pascal takes a playful, innovative look at the ingredients all around us: From using the wasabi-flavored black mustard to make a quick mustard with some vinegar and white wine, to pulling out the tiny birdsrape mustard seeds and soaking them in fish sauce for a faux caviar, Pascal's impressive knowledge of the natural word is seamlessly married with a complete culinary perspective. His impact has been felt on the bartending side as well, with the likes of L.A. Barman Matthew Biancaniello, who's known for foraging walnuts for a homemade nocino, praising Pascal as a mentor. "Pascal has truly taught me so much," says Biancaniello, who continues to ask questions as we traipse across a small babbling brook. "Once I realized that this was all out there, I began to see it everywhere." Indeed, cocktail components were all around: Pink peppercorns and stinging nettle begged to be infused, while red and black currants were inspiring us to "cassis it up" and horehound offered a perfect platform for making bitter liqueurs or absinthe. Pascal points to a tree that looks familiar; in fact, anyone living in Southern California probably sees one of these trees every day without even giving it a second thought. It's an elderflower tree, and although its leaves and bark are poisonous, its flavorful, pollen-laden flowers can be used in everything from garnish to sparkling wine to the classic liqueur. After hours of tasting, learning and asking, we parted ways with Pascal, who, like some mystical forest dweller, silently disap- peared deeper into the woods to check some of his favorite spots. "You have to be nuts to do what I do," says Pascal with a smile —but we're fairly certain his is an insanity of the genius variety. Our bags were stuffed to the brim as we headed back to civilization, where Biancaniello created cocktails made with foraged ingredients and Art in the Age spirits, which are distilled in Downtown Los Angeles. "These cocktails are about as local to L.A. as you can get!" laughed Rachel Mae Furman, National Brand Ambassador for Art in the Age. In the following months, we've carried our foraging lessons with us. After a quick taste of Biancaniello's stinging nettle-infused Art in the Age Sage creation, bar consultant Brent Falco was pleased to finally understand just how delicious this ingredient can be in a cocktail. Rosie Ruiz, a bartender at Harlowe in West Hollywood, found herself stopping every two minutes on a hike, investigating the flora and fauna for plants she recognized. Christine Wiseman, a bartender at La Descarga, was so inspired that she has continued her foraging efforts, creating elderflower-infused cocktails complete with elderflower ice cubes for the William Grant May Mix-Off competition. So, bartenders, there's a big, wide world out there: learn, forage and flourish. For more photos and a look at Matt Biancaniello's foraged cocktail recipes, visit Pascal Baudar uses the birdsrape mustard seeds to make a faux caviar. Foraging 101 We asked Pascal Baudar to give us a few tips to maximize our foraging potential: Never go by smell alone. "The gypsum weed plant may smell like enticing peanut butter, but it's a natural LSD," explains Pascal. Unless you're 100 percent sure of what it is, don't eat it! After foraging, use a little water to revive the plants, then wrap them up. All cacti are edible if palatable. "It should taste like a slimy cucumber," notes Pascal. Always pluck water plants way above the waterline. "Assume the worst for water plants. Check the quality of the water, check for parasites and check for animal poop," warns Pascal. Never uproot, never take too much. Visit Pascal's website www.urbanoutdoor- for more information or to sign up for classes. Our intrepid foraging team: Bar Consultant Brent Falco; Rosie Ruiz, bartender at Harlowe; Christine Wiseman, bartender, La Descarga and No Vacancy; Rachel Mae Furman, National Brand Ambassador, Art in the Age; Melissa Sutkowski, bartender, Connie and Ted's; Éva Pelczer, bartender, Honeycut and Allumette.

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