David Siller’s talent for hunting out nettles, pawpaws, quince and dozens of other delicious, edible plants that grow wild in the region have made him a favorite of chefs at restaurants like Russet, Kennett, Pumpkin and Will. Will chef Christopher Kearse was Siller’s first customer when he was cooking at Pumpkin. “I showed up with ramps and nettles and told him about the other stuff I had,” recalls Siller. “He said ‘Bring it on.’”
How did you get your start as a forager?
I’ve been foraging professionally and selling to restaurants for four or five years. Before that, I was foraging for myself. I was the kid who would eat berries from the schoolyard. After college, I started learning more about plants. I’m a conscious harvester, which means listening to the environment and caring about the sustainability of the plants.
What is the attraction of foraged ingredients?
They taste awesome and they’re unique. It’s not just fiddleheads and ramps. The wild food world is so broad. I get excited about the uncommon things, like Cornelian cherries. I try to encourage chefs to get creative with uncommon ingredients.
What does it take to be a forager?
I have a truck, boxes and bags, a shovel or two, a scale and a knowledge of plants and locations. I’ll go about 100 miles in all directions. I have my eyes open all the time. Sometimes I’m just going for a hike and poof! There’s maitake mushrooms. It’s like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
So, anyone can do this?
I’ve seen people of all ages get into it. It’s good to have a teacher before you start. It’s definitely not a good idea to just go out and pick random leaves and start eating them.
David Siller is a professional forager from the Delaware Valley. If it’s edible and marketable, he knows where it grows. Visit him at yosoybean.com.