Not so long ago, tinned food was at the height of food technology. Since then we’ve seen restaurants embrace the cutting edge in their menus, with futuristic nitrogen ice cream suddenly commonplace, and cocktails with ingredients so complex they read like chemistry sets. But it seems we are now seeing a turn towards the traditional, with rustic winning out over futuristic more and more on our plates.
Professional New York City forager Meghan Boledevich is an advocate of this change. As the city’s only full-time restaurant forager, Meghan and the restaurant she works for – PRINT, in Hell’s Kitchen – are leading the charge on the “farm to table” movement. It’s a nod to the traditional and certainly seems quaintly old fashioned, but on closer examination Meghan is at the forefront of a revolution that is as contemporary as can be.
Meghan’s role includes sourcing the best, most sustainable produce possible for the daily-changing menu at PRINT. Their dishes are to-the-minute seasonal and fresh as can be, with new ingredients brought in each day on Meghan’s three-wheeled VegCycle.
Meghan is pillar of knowledge, and she says that one of the joys of New York is that is simultaneously “local and global.” Navigating from one end of the city to the other, you can find Korean vegetables and Ethiopian bread at Union Street Market, to iconic New York dishes like pastrami and bagels on the Lower East Side. Meghan knows the best spots for every type of cuisine, and is a regular at New York City’s farmer’s markets.
With a kind of poetic synthesis, urban foraging is a phenomenon that is intrinsically aided by 21st century advancements. On a basic level, the idea of foraging for food in an urban landscape is a novelty: on a more practical basis, modern transport, accessibility and even knowledge is what facilitates Boledevich’s job. When TRULY spoke to Meghan, New York City was deep in the throes of winter and her Vegcycle rendered unusable by the bitter weather. Instead, she told us, she has to take the subway or a taxi. Not as ecologically sound, but convenient nonetheless.
A forager’s radar for seasonal produce also means that they are well ahead of the game when it comes to food trends. When we spoke to Meghan, she was already looking forward to “maple tap season”, when farmers across the State (as well as in Vermont) set up taps to extract maple sap, later cooked down into syrup. The water-like substance that precedes the syrup, though, is the “new coconut water” – the most recent drink du jour – and Meghan told us that PRINT will be using maple water in their next seasonal cocktail. It’s just another example of old fashioned extraction techniques being transformed into cutting edge.
There’s an admirable sense of community between Meghan, her fellow foragers, and the producers they support. In a convenience society where there is a grocery store, a coffee shop and a drugstore on every street corner, those that devote their lives to hunting down the very best know how important it is that they support each other. Producers and purchasers alike turn out week after week even in the depths of winter, working together to support the fledgling movement of foraging as it grows and develops. Meghan represents a new type of hunter-gatherer in a city that never sleeps.