LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Urban foraging may sound a lot like dumpster diving, especially if it's in a major, buzzing city like Los Angeles. But for one forager, it means discovering a trove of hundreds of wild plants. As Jonaki Mehta reports, exploring in LA can reveal ingredients for a whole new cuisine.
JONAKI MEHTA, BYLINE: Wild food is gourmet food for local forager Pascal Baudar.
PASCAL BAUDAR: OK, so here is an interesting plant. We're going to see a lot of plants. This one, a California native, is called yerba santa.
MEHTA: Baudar is interested in experimenting with culinary uses of wild foods.
BAUDAR: And I invite you to actually grab some of the green leaves sticking out and smell it. It's just an incredible smell.
MEHTA: Baudar leads forging classes in LA County. Today, we're on a pocket of private land in the Angeles National Forest in a group of about 20 students. One of them is Paloma Machado, who has been on many of Baudar's walks.
PALOMA MACHADO: I brought my Ziploc baggies for all the herbs that we collect, and I learn some new recipes. And it was just wonderful.
MEHTA: The idea that he's part of some new trend makes Baudar wince. His love for forging goes back to his childhood.
BAUDAR: I grew up in Belgium, and I grew up in a really tiny little farming town. We're talking, like, 1,000 people.
MEHTA: In a town that small...
BAUDAR: ...What do you do? You go in the forest, you pick a plant, you munch on it - you know, walnuts, hazelnuts. And sometimes you ask the old people, can I eat that? What can you do with it? So you learn.
MEHTA: Baudar says it's the tremendous number of areas he can access that make him love LA so much.
BAUDAR: For example, I can go to the sea and in the same afternoon, I can find myself at 8,000 feet in the mountains. You basically have six or seven distinct environments with complete different plants and complete different flavors that you can just go to in one day if you wanted to.
MEHTA: For Baudar, it's a culinary creativity that motivates his search. He even consults with restaurants in LA on ways to use what he's foraged. Right now, he's working with Michelin-starred n/naka.
BAUDAR: Today, we're going to do my pears cooked in forest floor.
MEHTA: Baudar says most chefs use about 30 varieties of plants. He uses more than 400.
BAUDAR: Maybe 60 percent grass. I stick that in the pot with my pears. Everything else is aromatic - white sage, sagebrush, black sage.
MEHTA: Michelle Pineda is one of the students on the walk. She was originally looking for a wilderness survival class.
MICHELLE PINEDA: And stumbled onto - this is a lot more fun than surviving.
BAUDAR: So my passion is to show them there is a whole universe of flavor that's available here.
MEHTA: He says in Southern California, very few people are using wild plants in their cuisine.
BAUDAR: So there is so much more to experiment with it.
MEHTA: Like white sage, mallow, which is an herb, and even an insect secretion used as a sugar called lerp. At the end of the foraging walk, we return to a picnic area with bags full of the day's finds.
BAUDAR: Should we go make some food?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yes.
BAUDAR: Let's do it.
MEHTA: The group dines on quail eggs served in dandelion's nest, cricket powder and acorn hummus. We finish off the meal with pears baked in grass and herbs inside a solar oven sprinkled with lerp.
BAUDAR: So many wild plants, so little time.
MEHTA: The city doesn't have to mean crowded parking lots and long lines at the grocery store, not when the forest can be your market. For NPR News, I'm Jonaki Mehta in Los Angeles.
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