I arrive in Vancouver two hours late. I blame this on my daughter. It was her idea to bring our dog along for this road trip, which turned our border crossing at Blaine, Washington, into an unexpectedly time- consuming misadventure. I’m here to meet Tyler Gray, the owner of Mikuni Wild Harvest, a unique food company that sells only FORAGED food. Everything from truffles to snails to mushrooms to exotic forest greens like fiddlehead ferns and wild licorice root. His is strictly a seasonal business—his company only sells what is found in the wild—and his clients include many of the top chefs in the United States.
We finally rendezvous at a tiny Vancouver café.
Gray has promised to reveal one stop on the FORAGING CIRCUIT, a network that spreads across Canada and throughout the Pacific Northwest, even as far south as Eugene, Oregon. One such spot is a tiny rock-bound beach near Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge. If I’d arrived on time Gray would simply wade into ankle- deep water and WILD HARVEST a dozen kelp bulbs and their long, semitranslucent leaves or blades, but—as previously mentioned—I’m two hours late. The tide has risen. I stand on the shore, watching sheepishly as Gray strips down to his boxer shorts and dives into the water. It’s October and the water is cold. Then it starts to rain. Gray bobs on the surface, then dives repeatedly until returning to shore with an armful of kelp.
An hour later we descend into a thick forest on the far side of Vancouver, pushing through dense foliage to discover mushrooms. Lots of mushrooms. Our wicker basket quickly fills with an assortment of wild
goods. There’s the “Chicken of the Woods”—called that because it tastes like chicken—and one named the “cauliflower” because . . . it looks like a massive cauli- flower. The whole event would seem magical except we’re never more than twenty yards off the fairway at a prominent Vancouver golf course. The continuous cursing elicited by one botched tee shot after another becomes the comedic sound track to our foraging odyssey.
I joke that Gray’s secret hunting ground will be lost once the first golfer dives into the forest to retrieve an errant golf ball, but he’s not so sure. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been with someone and picked a patch of miner’s lettuce or Siberian oxtails and they’re like, ‘Wow. I’ve got that growing in my backyard. I had no idea you could eat it.’ There’s this belief that wild foods are dangerous. Maybe it’s not as much now, but our relationship with the wild and with wild foods is still in its infancy compared to Asia or Europe.”