Probe NYC's Leafy Bounty with Ava Chin's Eating Wildly

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All images courtesy Simon & Schuster
Publishers love to send us cookbooks here at Fork in the Road, and often those books come straight from the chefs at some of New York's best restaurants. So we decided to share the love, and each week, we'll feature a new book, a recipe, and a few thoughts on cooking from the authors. Check back Tuesdays for a new book.

Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal
By Ava Chin, 245 pages, Simon & Schuster, $25

Locavores live and die by the notion that food should come from where you live; cutting the distance between farm and plate means fresher, firmer, less abused meals -- travel is tough on all living things, including the plants and meats we eat. Here in New York, we're often forced to define "local" as locales within a day's drive; "nearby," in New York, is sometimes as far as 300 miles away.

But for the urban forager, food comes from all over the city; it grows from cracks in the sidewalk; on the fringes of unkempt, outer-borough ballfields; in shaded park groves; and anywhere else plants climb toward the sun. For people like New York Times Urban Forager columnist Ava Chin, the city offers a bounty of wild-growing, edible plants, many of them frowned upon as (the horror!) weeds.

Chin eats weeds on the regular, and she lives to tell about it in her new book, Eating Wildly, which just dropped today.

Chin grew up in Flushing, Queens, the single daughter of a single mother in a Chinese immigrant family: "Growing up, my association with nature was really the weeds I saw in our back courtyard, in the playground," she says. As a child, she spent many nights and weekends with her grandparents; her grandfather was a cook in Chinese restaurants around the city, and in his kitchen, she developed a wide and varied palate; as she tells it (in the book and in person), young Chin would eat just about anything grandpa gave her.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and Chin found herself on the trail with "Wildman" Steve Brill, who guides regular foraging and nature walks in Prospect Park, and who showed her the ins and outs of collecting edible wild plants in the city. After that first walk, Chin set out with other urban foragers and later, on her own, finding plants and mushrooms that found their way into dinner: ramps and morels in spring; flowers and berries in summer; nuts, mushrooms, and more greens come fall. Suddenly, the city provided food in abundance.

In the book, Chin's story is as much about her personal journey as it is about the food, a pot-boiling mix of narrative and instruction. Sharply revealing, and, at times, uncomfortably honest, the book throws wide a window into a fascinating New York -- nee, American -- story, that's thrillingly voyeuristic to read and unbearably human.

And of course, there are recipes, too. On the next page, Chin chats about ethical picking, elusive mushrooms, and seeing New York City through new eyes.


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