British Columbia

Tofino chef Paul Moran on foraging and cooking competitions

The CBC's Lien Yeung went to Boundary Bay to sample some maritime herbs with the latest Top Chef Canada winner.

The CBC's Lien Yeung went to Boundary Bay to sample some maritime herbs with the latest Top Chef Canada winner

Tofino chef Paul Moran is a fifth-generation forager and has been finding food in places like Boundary Bay Regional Park in Delta since he was 12 years old. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Despite working in upscale kitchens and winning multiple cooking competitions, Tofino, B.C., chef Paul Moran still likes to get dirt on his hands to forage for West Coast plants for his lip-smacking menus.

In May, Moran was the latest winner of The Food Network's Top Chef Canada, where foraged foods featured in his creations.

"I really got a chance to highlight my passion for cooking with wild food and indigenous ingredients in Canada," he said.

"I think that gave me a little bit of edge against the competitors in terms of doing something a little bit more unique."

 

Moran, 32, is a fifth-generation forager who began picking wild foods with his father when he was 12.

He's also been competing in cooking contests since he was 14. He began his professional career at Vancouver's high-end Hawksworth restaurant.

This week, the chef for 1909 Kitchen in Tofino took the CBC's Lien Yeung to Boundary Bay Regional Park in Delta, B.C., where many edible plants can be found.

The CBC's Lien Yeung got a class in foraging from Tofino chef Paul Moran at Boundary Bay Regional Park. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC)

Why are you drawn to cooking competitions?

It's been about three in five years that I've won on the national level and I guess I have a competitive-streak side of me. I like competing just a little.

You have been foraging your whole life. How has that changed the way you cook?

With wild plants like this, it basically saves a lot of trips to the grocery store and ordering from suppliers.

It's changed a lot in the way that I mentor young chefs in terms of not just teaching them about cooking but also being able to go out and show them what products can be found out in nature at arm's reach for them.

It doesn't get much more local than this. It's good for the environment and super sustainable.

Chef Paul Moran harvests sea chives at Boundary Bay Regional Park. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Why did you choose this spot?

This is one of our family's go-to foraging spots for maritime herbs and super relative to the type of foraging I do back home in Tofino.

Chenopodium album, also known as maritime spinach or fat hen, is kind of a super salty, really tasty spinach. You would also treat it like a tender kale. Generally the tops are better ... but as you get lower down on the plant you can do other preparations with them — soups and purees at the bottom and then salads with the tops.

What other plants out here are edible?

Sea chives or sea cilantro tastes just like a salty cilantro. It's super popular in restaurants, chefs love using it. 

Sea asparagus, also known as samphire or sea beans, is one of the most popular culinary sea plants that you can find out in this area. We use a lot of them on the menu at 1909 Kitchen in Tofino and it's one of my personal favourites.

It's very salty, a little bit of iodine going on, a lot of minerality — you can definitely mellow that out easily by blanching it in some unsalted water for about 30 seconds.

Sea asparagus, also known as samphire or sea beans, is one of the most popular culinary sea plants that can be foraged. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

What are your top tips for foraging?

Going out with someone who knows what they are doing as many times as possible.

There's lots of great clubs in the Lower Mainland that you can join, whether it's for mushrooms or wild plants. Getting a couple of good books on the subject of the plants or mushrooms that you're looking for is super helpful too.

There's lots of toxic plants around. Most things you see around here are not edible and the things that are considered gourmet that are really awesome to forage take a lot of time to research and figure out what you're going for.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. After this story was published, the regional district wrote to advise that foraging in Metro Vancouver's regional parks is prohibited. 

According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, a licence isn't required to harvest on Crown land if it's for personal use and under 100 kilograms. However, a licence is required for commercial purposes. Any harvesting in a conservation area, like Boundary Bay, needs written permission from the ministry.

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