Bourbon Steak's Drew Adams creates vegetarian spring whimsy from a walk in the woods
By Susan Able and AJ Dronkers, Edible DC, photography by AJ Dronkers
A rambling walk in the woods with a chef focused on a spring foraging produced a surprising amount of edible forest matter and was a great education for our west coast team rep, AJ Dronkers, on what mid-Atlantic forests can produce as food. AJ joined Bourbon Steak's Chef Drew Adams on a hike last week in Maryland with Edible's contributing photographer, Jennifer Chase, who came along to capture the action and learn more about foraging.
On our hour and a half walk in the woods in Maryland, just north of the Potomac River, we found wild mint, nettles, wild onions, wild mustard greens, mulberries, wild carrots and turkey tail mushrooms. As we went along, Chef Drew pointed out edible plants that ripen along with the seasons, like pawpaw trees and spice bushes. He carried along a long stick that served as a leaf lifter and makeshift shovel for exploring and removing flora, but recommended a small shovel as an expedient way to remove various finds. Ramps, for example.
And of course, ramps were found. This is their season. Drew reminded us of an important foraging principle: Only pick 10% of what you find. Especially for something so popularly foraged such as ramps, taking only a small amount will insure the plant has a long term survival in the region. Also, he suggested it is always a good idea to follow the rules if you are foraging in a state or local park.
Drew Adams grew up in Maryland, and has been traipsing through the woods as long as he can remember. One strong memory of his woodland explorations is a cautionary tale--he ate an unknown mushroom and had to visit the ER to get his stomach pumped. This incident did not slow him down. As an adult, he has researched and learned on his own about how to forage, including taking walks with a local educational botanist. "I'm an 'intermediate level' forager," Adams explained to the group. "There is still so much to learn, and so many chefs who are taking things next level. One thing for sure, this is not a trend, and for professional foragers, it is how they make their living. People don't often share their reliable spots for finding popular items, like morels. It can get pretty intense over guarding spots, sometimes event violent, especially over something with a high market value like wild ginseng."
After our walk, we returned to Georgetown and Bourbon Steak where Drew put to work the finds from our walk. He delivered a sourdough bread platform that was a forest fantasy bruschetta. The grilled bread was topped with house-made ricotta with lemon and honey, pickled turnips and fiddlehead ferns, wild onions, apple blossoms, pickled garlic and mustard flowers all combined into colorful deliciousness.
Adams told us, "I'm still so passionate about learning. The field behind my parents house is filled with what must be 10,000 violets, yet only about 1 in 10 have a violet flavor, so its funny how that can be hit or miss. But I'll tell you one thing, the thing I love most is the pawpaw fruit which will be ripe in the fall. It's got these amazing tropical flavors and I can't wait to bring that on the menu."
Drew Adams is the Executive Chef at Bourbon Steak, Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC. A Baltimore native, Adams is a graduate of Johnson& Wales. Before arriving at Bourbon Steak, Adams has cooked at some of the top DC restaurants including The Dabney, Rose's Luxury, Plume and Marcel's.