Cooking with wild ingredients is a popular trend that many terroir-obsessed chefs in Toronto have caught on to. Although these chefs would love to go out and forage their own wild ingredients, there are only 24 hours in a day. So, they depend on Marc Eber, founder of Marc’s Mushrooms and Wild Harvest, and the man responsible for many of the foraged mushrooms you find on your plate while dining out in Toronto. Eber fits in with the new generation of passionate young people who are enthusiastic about the development and distribution of locally sourced sustainable products. One hundred and fifty restaurants in Toronto and the Niagara region rely on the supply of Eber’s foraged mushrooms and his other wild products like berries and herbs. His recent sales average about 1,000 pounds of mushrooms per week. Eber’s education on foraging reads like a natural history. His interest piqued while portaging a canoe on a trip through Algonquin Park when he was a teenager. With his head forced down he was mesmerized by the diversity of life he walked upon. He began to read about mushroom varieties, growing patterns and practiced identifying various families in the wild. On one particular trip in 2008 he came back to the city with an abundance of Lobster mushrooms. His long time friend and chef Chris Brown expressed interest in buying them. Word got out and Eber began selling his mushrooms to some of his buddies and their buddies. He recognized the business potential but it quickly became apparent that demand would soon outweigh supply. Securing a supply chain and establishing a clientele is something Eber has been working on for the last couple of years. He has made connections with other foragers in Canada, sourcing product in British Columbia and the East Coast where the foraging industry is more reliable and abundant. Now that he has created a reputable business, Eber’s plan is to focus on becoming more familiar with the quantities and varieties growing in Ontario forests so he can offer local product to his clients with more certainty and consistency. With the growing appeal for foraged product, Eber foresees the acceleration of his small business. He currently has two employees that help him with accounting and deliveries and some friends who informally accompany him on foraging expeditions. He predicts that this might change but expresses the importance of keeping his business small for purposes of sustainability and sheer dedication to his passion. The personal relationships he has with his clients and his excitement and concern about wild ingredients outweigh any large-scale business or money making prospects. Capitalizing on nature’s bounty is something that concerns Eber. He is wary of the opportunistic qualities that inherently come along with foraging. He advises anyone with an interest in foraging to do the proper research before they go out in the wild and start picking away. It is irresponsible to believe that anyone with basic knowledge and a pair of rubber boots can forage. Eber spent many years before picking just observing wild mushrooms with a fungus identification book. He advises others to have the same caution. Being educated means more than having the ability to identify safe plants; it means having an awareness of reproduction patterns and ethical picking. Michelle Rabin is a Toronto based recipe tester, writer and server. She loves shopping at farmer’s markets, supporting local and sustainable products and of course eating delicious food. Follow her at @michellerabin and check out her blog The Art of Eating Alone.
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