BY TRONE DOWD
“Wildman” Steve Brill, a Southeast Queens native and the leading expert in the field of foraging for natural healthy foods in America, will be stopping by Idlewild Park in Springfield Gardens this Saturday sharing the tricks and tips to his unique expertise to those who attend.
As explained by Brill, the hands-on foraging program that he is famous for is focused mostly on finding healthy and flavorful naturally grown ingredients that one would be able to find at most parks around the country, as well as giving people knowledge on how to harvest and survive if they ever find themselves lost in the wild.
“I’ve been studying this stuff and experimenting in the kitchen relentlessly for more than 34 years,” Brill told the Queens Tribune.
“I try to make things that taste really good with helpful vegan ingredients. There’s an idea that you have to risk obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer that comes with white flower, sugar, high-fat, low-fat fiber diets, or that you’re just not going to have anything enjoyable is not true. Based on the responses I get when I share food, that’s not the case at all. You can have incredibly delicious food with natural whole ingredients, especially with the addition of wild food.”
“I grew up in Queens and lived there for much of my life,” he said. “I was first interested in food and cooking.” He recalled often times making many of his own dishes based on recipes he’d find on the side of different products. As he got older, he says that he took interest in more healthy eating options after seeing how a poor diet could affect one’s overall vitality.
“One day as I was riding past Cunningham Park, I saw three ethnic Greek women picking something,” Brill explained. “I had already been exploring the ethnic stores in Flushing and other parts of Queens and was curious as to what they were finding. I asked them what they were doing, and it was all Greek to me! Despite that, they managed to convey that they were looking for grape leaves which is a traditional Greek food. They were nice enough to give me some. I went home that day and made my first stuffed grape leaf recipe and it was very very delicious.”
From that point on Brill decided to do more research into foraging for natural ingredients. He quickly realized that much of the available information at the time was either inaccurate or from a botanist’s point of view rather a culinary point of view. It was at that point that he took it upon himself to be the authority on the topic. It wasn’t long before he was the leading man in the field.
Today, Brill tours different parks around the country showing locals just how valuable some of the foliage can be for people trying to prepare a tasty and healthy meal.
Brill listed a number of wild plants that are either edible wild weeds and flowers or variants of well known veggies found in most supermarkets, restaurants and modern kitchens today. Some of these include a plant called burdock traditionally sold in Japan as “gobo,” a nutritious weed called lamb’s quarter, which is related to spinach and often sold in farmers markets, chick weeds, which Brill says tastes similar to corn on the cob, and finally wild carrots and lettuce, subspecies of their common cousins you’d find in most households “only with more intense flavors and nutrients.”
“I will be talking about the plants and how to recognize them […] how to correctly harvest them ecologically and how to use them in recipes,” Brill said. “I may even have a few handfuls of recipes to give out.”
He mentioned that preparation for some of these plants are not only key to ensure that they remain tasty for consumption, but key to bringing out the best that they have to offer.
“They can be quite delicious if you follow my directions on how to prepare it,” Brill said. “It has saved people’s lives and killed people if you don’t follow certain directions.” He compared plants to the puffer fish, which is known to be either full of vitamins and minerals that are greatly beneficial to the body but only if prepared correctly. He assured though that preparation for these natural goods was not difficult and could be done but virtually anyone, young and old.
“I especially like people bringing kids on the tour,” he said. “I try to provide both knowledge of the ecosystem and how they work focusing of course on the plant, the very simple biological concepts that they don’t teach in biology classes today.”
The two-hour foraging tour of Idlewild Park, held in conjunction with Friends of Idlewild Park, begins at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, May 7, at 149th St. and Springfield Lane, in Springfield Gardens, NY. On Saturday at 1 p.m., Brill will visit Queensway at the corner of Woodhaven Boulevard and Forest Park Drive, continuing his foraging tour. If you are interested, please call (914) 835-2153 at least 24 hours in advance to sign up. For more information visit www.wildmanstevebrill.com or download his app, ‘Wild Edible Forage’ on the iTunes App Store and Google Play.
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly