Apparently the institutionalization of small-scale food foraging is part of the new food chain for restaurant supply, and it has become an “intensely secret” and “ultracompetitive” world:
FreshDirect, the online grocery-delivery service, offers packs of foraged lambsquarters for $4.99 each. Chef David Waltuck, who’s bought ingredients from foragers at his New York restaurants since the ’70s, says the picking operations have gotten more sophisticated to keep up with the market. “Foragers sell to purveyors now,” he says. “It became more of a business. Back in the early days, there was nothing like that.”
With the explosion in popularity, though, the foragers themselves have had to become even more protective of their wares. “You’re looking at limited resources,” says Matt Parker, a West Coast–based purveyor of foraged ingredients who works with a small network of gatherers and sells to restaurants such as Spago and Gjelina. “Foragers live and die by the seasons and what’s available, so of course they are protective of their spots — that’s how they make a living.” Parker sustains a roster of “seven to nine guys, depending on how reliable they want to be,” but none will reveal their “honey grounds” to him. Waltuck adds, “They might take you out with them, but they’ll blindfold you.” Indeed, when another prominent New York chef offered to send me out with his preferred forager in Jersey’s Delaware Water Gap, he agreed to do so only if I’d wear a pillowcase over my head for the entire car ride. Eventually, the forager got cold feet and reneged on the deal altogether.
That is from Edna Ishayik, via MR reader Jeremy Yamada.