The Urban Forager



Winter has passed quickly for me here in Los Angeles. Suddenly the smells of spring are in the air during my morning runs, the tree in our courtyard is beginning to bud and turn a light speckled green, and the sun comes up earlier every morning.

It was almost exactly a year ago that Sumi, my partner in At Our Table, introduced me to her friend, Elisa. Elisa had been working for quite a while on a book of recipes and food sourcing local to East Los Angeles that she called “The Urban Forager,” and she decided to feature both Sumi and me for the baking portion of her project. As a result, Elisa wanted to do a demonstration day for the recipes we presented so that she could take photos and document some of our work. Yet, this demonstration ended up being more than that. When I met Elisa for the first time, I knew little about her or her project, but after speaking to her and working together over the last year, from the beginnings of her project to what is now her book launch and the multiple signings that will follow, I have come to realize that I connect to her in more ways than I could have imagined; in our memories, the the ways we were raised, and in the values and passions we hold close.


My memories of childhood are mostly filled with a steady hum of family life: places I would go with my parents, waking up early on weekends to pack myself a lunch and then heading out to explore for the day. My father would wake early every morning for his daily walk in the neighborhood and by the river, and as the seasons rolled by, his returns home would often be punctuated by, “The Tsukushi are ready to be picked, let’s go next week!” or “It’s clam-harvesting season, let’s go to the ocean this weekend to dig them up!” The living things that arrived and departed with the arrival and ebbing of the seasons (vegetables, mulberry fruits, wild roots, chestnuts, fish) were all reasons for us to stop our routine, daily activities and enjoy their offerings. The places we would go to harvest the seasonal fruits were often away from the city, in the countryside or in small towns; as we would draw close to our destination, it was always my mother who would, without a hint of shyness, converse readily with local villagers and small shop owners. And so often these trips would unfold not just into a harvest for our dinner, but a small adventure in which we would encounter kind souls who would offer up conversation, warmth, and perhaps some local gifts and stories to take home with us. The dinners we would eat back at home on those days were some of the best I can remember, as we always brought back something more than we had set out to find. Our returns from these outings were always accompanied by a collective family rush to prepare and preserve whatever we had brought back, whether it be to fry up the fresh vegetables into tempura for a meal, or cut the fish we had caught into sashimi, or cook some of the fruits into preserves that would last us for months to come. Getting to eat what you have harvested yourself is a taste and experience that can only be understood by those who have done it. My mother would always say, “Working so hard all day, and then being able to bring it back to your family and make the gift of a meal together, is better than any Michelin Star restaurant!”


At one of her recent book signings, Elisa spoke about her history and relationship to food: that making and eating are in fact not mutually exclusive, but those things together are what create the excitement of discovery, the appreciation for culinary and ingredient history, and the human to human connections over a meal. I found a deep resonation with Elisa’s words that day. I can only hope that Elisa’s words and her hard work in The Urban Forager will help to inspire in others some of that joy, excitement, and connection that I know both she and I have had the pleasure of sharing.



更新までにずいぶん時間が経ちました。あっという間に春の兆しを感じます。中庭の草木にも新芽がでて、朝もだいぶ早く明るくなるようになりました。

ちょうど一年前、このブログのパートナーでもあるスミの紹介で、ある女性に会いました。実は彼女は出版が目前に迫るUrban Foragerという本の著者であり、その日はこの本に掲載されることとなったスミと私のレシピのデモンストレーションを兼ねた本のための撮影があったのです。


当時は本の内容もあまりわからなかったものの、この一年かけてエリサのこと、本のことを知り、出版に向けたイベントの準備や様々な食にまつわる会話を重ねる中で、エリサの、本にたどり着くまでの人生、価値観が自分の生い立ちにすごく重なる部分があることに気づかせてくれた、そして自分がそのように思える背景には私の幼少時代の両親とのたくさんの思い出が関係している、と気づかせてくれた大切な出会いでもありました。

私の記憶の中の幼少時代から始まり、正確に言えば今も継続して続く親子のイベントといえば、週末に早起きしてお弁当を作り何かを採りに行くことでした。季節や自然の変化に非常に敏感は父は、毎日の散歩コースの中で変化を感じ取り「もう「つくし」の取れる季節だ!来週採りにいこう」「もう潮干狩りの季節だ、アサリを採りに行こう」といった調子で、からし菜、桑の実、山菜、栗、魚、どれもがタダのもの、食べられるものであることが基本で、この突然の計画が年間を通して結構な頻度で起きるのです。大概の場所はあまり人のいない、または都会から離れた自然の中であり、目標の場所が近づいて来ると道を歩く人や小さな食堂やお店の人に遠慮なく話しかけるのは母の役。この近くで美味しいものは食べられないか、農家さんからお野菜は分けてもらえるか、などからスタートする会話から予定外の場所に案内してもらい新しい発見があったり、心の底から優しい人たちに大勢会い、暖かな気持ちの余韻を感じながら、たくさんの収穫物ととも家に帰る道中は疲れていながらも本当に充実感いっぱいで、子供の私なりにも、これから家で食べられるご馳走のことを考えるとわくわくしたものでした。


家への到着と同時に、山菜の天ぷらの準備、魚のお刺身の準備、時にはジャムづくりの準備が早速始まるのです。自分で収穫したものを味わう喜びは体験した人にしかわからないものです。でもこの1日に起きた全てのことが最後に料理となって集結する、どんなミシェランレストランへ行くよりも美味しいよね、って母がよく言っていたことを今でも思い出します。


エリサもつい先日の本のサイン会で、彼女の体験を話していました。ただ料理を作ること、食べること、と分けて考えるのでなく、それが人と人との関わり、食文化へ理解、新しい発見、そして美味しい、楽しい、という感覚、感情まで全てがつながっていると信じる私の考えにすごく近いように感じました。彼女の本によって大勢の人が今まで以上に楽しい発見や体験ができたら、と私も願っています。

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