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San Francisco foraged food underground: Wild Kitchen dinner

I’d been told the supper club was an underground thing, but I was lucky to even find the dinner location. The address was a block away from the entrance and when I finally found the back alley, I had no idea which door to try and the block was dark and empty. Luckily, someone slipped out for a cigarette and I made my way inside and up a flight of stairs to the kitchen.

The partly volunteer staff was busily preparing wild caught tempura-fried smelt with sea beans, but the founder of ForageSF just happened to be tasting the third course outside the kitchen.

I started following my own interest in foraged food after I moved out to California,” explained Iso Rabins who founded both the foraging group and the Wild Kitchen dinners. “I started these dinners about 2 and a half years ago. I wanted to show people that you can make really interesting foods with wild foraged foods not just salads and things like that.”

The menu for this month’s meal included among the 8 courses: Sierra Mountain morel tart and frisse and capers; quail egg with seaweed and sea beans (I believe); and a very popular wild nettle soup with creme fraiche (while the menu changes every month, Rabins usually includes the nettle soup).

When I asked if they used butter and sugar, Rabins told me he’s not a survivalist and the foraged foods are just part of the menu and a way to help people see beyond the supermarket.

Upstairs, where the sixty diners sat at one long table, I ran into a group of women drawing the meal (they told me they are graphic facilitators) who echoed his ideas. One of them explained why she saw these kind of meals as bigger than just the courses served.

“I think it’s broadening one’s perspective to see greater possibility. Instead of saying, ‘Where do I go to eat? Oh there’s McDonalds, there’s Safeway or there’s all of that landscape in between that has all of this stuff growing there. It’s tantamount to our idea of abundance that these things are always there and it’s how we look at it whether or not we see it as a possibility.”

In this video, I visit the roving underground supper club in San Francisco’s SOMA district for a look at a wild dinner up close, and a lot of talk about harvesting night smelt (Spirinchus starski) and wikipedia-ing sea beans (AKA Salicornia europaea or samphire).