Chances are you don’t find yourself wandering the woods in search of food on the regular, but Minnesota chef, Alan Bergo does.
Bergo has been cooking since he was 15 and currently heads up the kitchen at The Salt Cellar in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood. He loves to use fresh, locally sourced ingredients in his cooking and when he says fresh and local, he means just about as fresh and local as ingredients can come! Bergo is a forager. He enjoys foraging for ingredients to use in his cooking and especially enjoys the hunt for wild mushrooms. A few years ago, a friend of Bergo’s thought what he was doing was really cool and Forager | Chef was born, allowing him to share his experiences as a forager and chef with the world.
Needless to say, Bergo has quite a niche and as someone who knows nothing about foraging, I was curious to learn more about it and about the Forager | Chef himself.
In the beginning I didn’t even know what the word foraging was, but it started when I was at Heartland. I started to notice mushrooms hunters had brought into restaurants I’d worked at in the past while I was frisbee golfing with my friends.
I started to bring in the common species I knew, and I would use them on the menu. Finding something, and then creating with it was exciting. I’d never felt such a connection to food. From there, after learning a few common species, I started to research other mushrooms, and then plants. Every year I continue to uncover new things and new puzzles.
My favorite thing about foraging is when I find something I’ve been hunting for a long time. It’s more than hunting for free food. It’s about the element of sport. It’s very exciting—something people from Europe have known for a very long time.
The most interesting thing I’ve found (without sharing too much) are as of yet, an undescribed species of edible mushrooms. We don’t know everything about what grows in the Midwest, and I doubt we ever will. Mushrooms, especially, can be very elusive.
This year, I found a big batch I’ve been looking for in a place I’ve been going for at least five years that I had never seen. Some mushrooms don’t obey the annual fruiting cycles plants do, they’re much more picky. Unearthing old PDFs online of fungal documentation from the early 20th century has been really useful, and shown me that some obscure species people think don’t grow in the Midwest, like the Mushroom of St. George, actually do. I call species I’m researching or haven’t found yet “unicorns.”
I am not an expert, and I wouldn’t describe myself as one. My advice for people who want to eat local and fresh is to go to a farmers market that doesn’t allow produce like bananas and mangoes, since they don’t grow here. The Saint Paul Farmer’s Market is my favorite. Getting to know the people who make what you eat, and embracing seasonal change in food that happen will give you a deeper connection to where you live.
Learn more about foraging, wild food, and Alan Bergo on his website, Forager | Chef.
Maribel is a lifelong public media fan and as director of Rewire, oversees the site’s strategy and operations. When she isn’t catching up on the latest digital publishing trends, she enjoys traveling, flamenco dancing and going on adventures with her doggos.