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We Want Your Job Kerry Clasby, Professional Forager

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Do you suffer from office ennui? Is walking around the block your idea of getting “fresh air”? Green a color you only see on weekends? If yes, then we invite you to kick back in your cubicle for a taste of a different kind of job: meet Kerry Clasby, professional forager.

I first met Kerry in February in New York at a dinner at the James Beard House. She was in town with Chef Ray Garcia of FIG Restaurant in Santa Monica (below)—known for his super-creative ultra-sustainable approach to cooking with up-to-the-minute ingredients, especially produce. As she does with kitchen staffs, Kerry worked the dining room, waxing poetic and educating us about the just-plucked early spring flavors that filled our plates.

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Not all chefs shop at (or have access to) farms—or even farmers markets—and this is where Kerry comes in. Every week, she travels up and down California—Thousand Oaks, Ojai, Santa Barbara, Sonoma—in a flatbed truck sourcing the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients, schmoozing purveyors, chatting up gardeners and growers, and even getting out into wild in search of everything from green almonds to wild fennel. Need some rangpur limes? She’ll find them. Does a recipe call for romano beans? No worries, Kerry will hunt some down like an agri-detective on a mission. And her talents are known far beyond state lines; in addition to Chef Ray Garcia at FIG, she also forages for Tom Colicchio (Colicchio & Sons) and Mark Ladner (Del Posto), among other top chefs in New York and elsewhere. Her job is a reminder that no matter where you travel, there's almost always some fresh and local to try—no matter what the season.

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Q: How did you start foraging?
A:
I was running a CSA in Montecito and growing heirloom tomatoes when I was invited to mushroom at this 30,000-acre ranch. I started bringing chanterelles to the local farmers markets and meeting chefs—and realizing what makes them light up.

Q: How did you connect with Chef Garcia?
A:
One of the places I’d stop with my truck—packed with new stuff—was at FIG Restaurant. When I met Chef Ray and we connected instantly, sharing the same excitement for great produce. I’ve been working with him ever since.

Q: What percentage of your work is done in the wild?
A:
It depends. About twice a week I like to get out and look for things like wild celery and stinging nettle. I have my favorite patches.

Q: What’s the rarest/most unusual think you’ve foraged?
A:
The “bluette” or blue foot mushroom only comes out when it’s raining, and only lives for a day or two, so you have to know where to look and when. It’s all about the timing.

Q: In your opinion, what do you think is the most unsung vegetable, fruit, or herb?
A:
I love mulberries. I could eat them by the bowlful. Everyone should have a tree.

Q: If you could only live on one fruit or vegetable what would it be?
A:
Avocado. Definitely. Nutritionally, it’s amazing—all those fatty acids and minerals. And, it’s so buttery.

Q: If you didn’t forage for a living, what would you be doing?
A: I would want to help teach people how to not be stressed, follow their intuition, and stay in the Now. Just be healthy, really.

Q: What’s in peak season right now at FIG?
A:
It’s cherry season—Brooks cherries. And, it’s a great stone fruit season in general, especially Blenheim apricots (from the Santa Clara Valley). Also, squash blossoms, wild mache, German butterballs…

Adrien Glover is the online deputy editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photos courtesy of FIG, Kerry Clasby

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