Ambitious local chefs look beyond food distributors, grocery stores, and farmers’ markets to find the perfect ingredients to round out their menus. A number of local chefs find some of their prized ingredients the old-fashioned way: by foraging in the woods.
Joel Hammond, executive chef at the White Buffalo Club, begins foraging when the snow melts. He searches in secret locations for morels, porcinis, ramps, chanterelles, watercress, spruce tips, and huckleberries, carefully monitoring weather conditions and using his local knowledge to find the best seasonal ingredients.
“As a chef, cooking is my passion, and being able to forage and pick your own ingredients is exciting and fun,” Hammond says.
Hammond, a born and raised Jackson local, grew up hunting and huckleberrying, learning from his father how to identify wild local ingredients.
“My chefs and I will spend the day in the woods,” he says. “There is a feeling of satisfaction from doing this with my team. I like creativity and constant change. We update the menu, or our chef’s tasting menu, based on what we find.”
The team waits until conditions are just right and adjusts their plans accordingly. Some weeks, they may search for wild edibles daily while other weeks they may not go out at all. Early season foraging includes morels and ramps, followed by porcinis and chanterelles. August is huckleberry season.
Bradley Pryor, executive chef at the Grill at Amangani, is another local chef who forages for seasonal wild ingredients. He attended culinary school in Oregon, where one of his teachers was head of the Mycological Society.
“That’s when I got into foraging,” Pryor says. “He taught me to decipher what mushrooms you could pick, what you could eat. It was a unique learning experience.”
He’s also learned it’s important to pick his own. In the past he’s had foragers try to sell him hauls that inadvertently included poisonous mushrooms.
Selecting their own wild ingredients lets the chefs get creative with their fare. One of Hammond’s favorite things to do is pickle ramps and use them in his cuisine. “Using pickled ramps in dishes brings a nice oniony, acidic flavor,” he says.
He also enjoys creating a morel appetizer, using morels sauteed in foie gras butter, with English peas, pickled ramps, and pea shoots to highlight the morels’ intense flavor. With huckleberries, he takes a different tactic.
“My favorite way to use huckleberries is in a savory element, rather than sweet,” Hammond says. “In sauces, it pairs well with wild game—duck, squab, venison, or any dark, heavy meat.”
Pryor also likes to make nettle soup. “It’s a vibrant green color, and a really bright, beautiful, distinctive flavor,” he says.
But he most enjoys the taste and versatility of morels. “Morels lend themselves to everything so easily,” he says. “We’ve done chicken dishes, sauteed them, stuffed them with goat cheese, we make our own demi-glace with morels. One of my favorites is a housemade pappardelle with a white wine butter sauce with morels. It’s a very mushroom-forward dish.”
Pryor is passionate about collaborating with his team to create new dishes based on what he gathers, and always maintains a respect for the natural environment. “When you forage, you’re maintaining stewardship of the land and not decimating these areas,” he says.
Hammond echoes this view. “A great part about morels is when you cut them they grow back,” he says.
Both chefs see foraged ingredients as an opportunity to offer something unique and local, and share a part of Jackson Hole with residents and visitors alike.