On the Job with Shawn Dawson: A Professional Forager

Dawson makes his living from searching the Newfoundland wilderness for edible mushrooms, seaweeds, berries, molluscs, weeds, herbs, and teas. The man is a walking, talking field manual of what to look for a where to find it.

Dawson makes his living from searching the Newfoundland wilderness for edible mushrooms, seaweeds, berries, molluscs, weeds, herbs, and teas. The man is a walking, talking field manual of what to look for a where to find it.

In just an hour-long conversation, I had my mind blown countless times. Why? Because apparently steamed Japanese knotweed tastes like asparagus, Alder-buds can be used for black pepper, you can pickle seaweed like kimchi, chaga can be used to brew stout beer, and rosehips used to brew saisons, chanterelle ice-cream is amazing, stinging-nettle pesto is better than basil, wild sea-mustard hot sauce sells very well, and you can make dulse jerky.

The life of a forager is equal parts farmer, entrepreneur, and social media creative. Dawson spends 70 to 80 hours foraging in the woods each week to supply his customers – the restaurants you know and love – with the freshest Newfoundlandia possible. He makes his deliveries to restaurants one day a week. The rest of his time is spent dreaming up new avenues to sell, create, or find new products, and trying to spread the holy gospel of foraged food.

Foraging was something that Dawson found himself drawn into all his life. What started as outings with his grandmother became a passion and is now a profession. This is the first year Dawson has been able to work on his foraging full-time. The knowledge and skills he uses to keep food on people’s tables have been developed through countless hours in the woods and constant reading. Wanna forage? You gotta read.

Dawson runs his many operations under the name The Barking Kettle. The main hub of this business is the wholesale of foraged goods to other businesses, maintaining relationships, taking orders, and planning his weeks around what to look for and where to search. However you can catch him selling some of his many experiments at the St. John’s Farmer’s markets, and the many food festivals around the island.

Dawson has recently been working with local chefs on a series of events called The Forager’s Dinner: a celebration of wild foraged ingredients. He provides the foraged foliage and they do a special menu for the curious customer. He just celebrated the fifth of these events in March, having worked with FORK restaurant and The Grounds Cafe.

In the spring and summer months, Dawson leads a foraging tour out of the Murray Garden Centre in Portugal Cove. He takes participants around the centre grounds in search of familiar and foragable species, then they return back to The Grounds Cafe and the kitchen team cooks up what they find. Eco-tour meets hide and seek meets dinner.

In addition to all this, Dawson is working on a wild Newfoundland foraging cookbook. It will be something of a companion to the already available field guides to edible plants but with tips and recipes from local chefs on how best to use them. The current literature has not yet caught up with the enthusiasm of the modern wild food movement, and Dawson hopes to change that.

You can catch Dawson on facebook under Barkingkettle and on instagram @flossmandandycabbage

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