Food from the Forest

Foraging for seasonal ingredients in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Most of us have foraged for food at one time or another—picking wild blueberries or blackberries while on a walk through Vancouver Island forests. But in Parksville Qualicum Beach, there is a small but growing movement of foragers and restaurants who are working to introduce foraged ingredients on a wider scale to their community.

Meal made from foraged food at De Lile Edible VI in Parksville Qualicum Beach Vancouver Island

In the business of foraging

Husband and wife team Benjamin Patarin and Célia Auclair are two such passionate foragers. They opened their wild foraging business Forest for Dinner in 2015, spending their days foraging for various botanicals, mushrooms and berries. “We have just over 80 different products commercially,” says Ben. “We sell them fresh either to restaurants or at farmers’ markets. We also have a line of preserves, so we have our own commercial kitchen and facility to process them.”

Célia notes that their location on Vancouver Island is ideal for foraging. “We have sea level and high altitudes with so many different spaces in between, so it’s very rich and has a very diverse climate. That allows us to have many different types of food in just one place.” She also describes foraging as a magical experience. “You never really know what quantity you’re going to find and what other types of spaces you might encounter during your trip.”

Ben adds, “There are not that many places around the world where you can do it at a commercial scale.” While he grew up loving foraging in Europe, he never imagined it would be something he could do full-time as a career. “When I discovered in Canada that I actually could spend my time in the forest and, with a bit of creativity, find a way to actually get paid for it…it's my dream job.”

And Ben has seen a shift in consumer mentality when it comes to the popularity of foraging and incorporating these local ingredients into diets. “And then the chefs are incorporating foraging food into the cuisine now, so hopefully it’s going to become even bigger.”

“ There's mushrooms, berries, lots of wild greens, things that we can't find in other provinces. ” -Milena Ficza | De L’ile Restaurant

Foraging for a menu

Milena Ficza and Will Cook of De L’ile Restaurant in Qualicum Beach incorporate foraged ingredients into their menu. Their restaurant philosophy is to focus on sourcing local ingredients, including those they’ve foraged themselves, which they try to include in all their dishes. “We want to pick things and use them in our food because we want to showcase where we live and what we can do with things just outside of our doorstep,” explains Milena.

Milena echoes Forest for Dinner in her love of the variety available in the forests of Vancouver Island. “There's mushrooms, berries, lots of wild greens, things that we can't find in other provinces. That's why we ended up opening the restaurant on the island.” The result is a seasonal menu that is constantly changing according to what’s available.

And for Milena and Will, foraging for restaurant ingredients isn’t a chore—it’s a joyful choice. “It's a passion of ours; foraging is what we do to wind down on our weekends. We have fun doing it!”

About the Author

Danielle Steiner