Can you imagine stepping outside your house and wading out onto a reef to collect seaweeds and shellfish for your lunch? Or talking the dog for a walk into the nearby forest, hunting for mushrooms and foraging edible plants to go with it?
That’s the idyllic-sounding lifestyle of Kazz Padidar, who lives by the sea in Jersey and makes his living by foraging and teaching outdoor adventure activities. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Kazz, who explained how his career choices have been motivated by a love of nature and why Jersey is a lovely place to visit – even in the winter.
Kazz’s grandparents lived on Jersey during the German occupation of the Second World War. They owned a farm, but when the Nazi’s commandeered all of their food production, they were left to forage for wild foods to feed themselves. Far from burying this experience as deeply as possible, Kazz’s grandmother passed on her skills to her grandsons, convinced that this knowledge would once again be important in the future.
Kazz and his brothers had the kind of wild childhood that is all but impossible now (but which science increasingly shows is the best possible start for kids). As Jersey was a safe island, they were allowed to roam free all day, until it was time to go home to eat. Things have changed a bit nowadays, including an increase in road traffic, and it’s likely that Kazz and his brothers were among the last people to grow up this way on Jersey.
With his Wild Adventures, Kazz aims to give kids and adults a taste of that world by teaching them bushcraft and survival skills, including foraging. His hope is that, by doing so, he is helping to reconnect people to nature. With a better understanding of their environment, and an appreciation of what it has to offer, he believes people are more likely to value their natural surroundings and to want to help conserve them.
For many years Kazz foraged only for his personal use, but then he connected with a Michelin-starred chef and began to supply wild foods for his restaurant, Bohemia. Kazz now supplies four restaurants on Jersey, but only with foods he now he can supply sustainably – Kazz forages for the love of it, rather than for the money, and on his courses always teaches his students how to forage responsibly and care for the plants and the environment. In fact, Kazz has seen an improvement in the patches that he visits; the plants are responding to his careful ‘management’ by becoming more abundant.
Kazz’s days are very varied, but a typical summer day involves an early start at 6am, checking his text messages for orders from the restaurants. By 7:30 am he’ll be done foraging, loading his harvests and his course supplies into the minibus and on his way to deliver to the restaurants. From 8:30 to 3:30 he’ll be having outdoor adventures with an educational group, and at 4pm will be moving on to a foraging walk or a bushcraft part. In the long days of summer it’s rare for him to be home before 8pm, but as his ‘work’ involves a big cook-up on the beach, it’s hard to feel that he’s overworked!
Although its southern location means Jersey can be warmer than the rest of the UK, it is very dependent on the Gulf Stream for its weather, and isn’t immune to frost and snow. Even so, Kazz says winter is a lovely time to visit the island, and even a bountiful time for foraging.
At the moment he’s harvesting Spring Beauty (AKA miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata), which is usually a thin grass at this time of year, but is already leafing out due to the mild autumn. It gets its name from the pretty white flowers that erupt from the centre of the leaves in spring.
Also on the menu is sea purslane (Halimione portulacoides), which is high in vitamin A and Omega-3 fatty acids, and rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum). Pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris) is good now. As well as being edible, Kazz says that his plant is being investigated as a possible treatment for memory loss/ Alzheimer’s. The inner flesh is good for healing wounds, and Kazz likes to think of it as the Jersey version of aloe vera!
And then there are the Sea beans, 1/2-inch long fruits, full of salt water, and bright yellow flowers. The beans are good with seafood, and available for foraging year round. Apparently it’s a relative of the hottentot fig, but Kazz doesn’t know the scientific name, and I haven’t been able to pin it down either – ‘sea beans’ of various kinds are quite common throughout the world!
Although Jersey is a gourmet destination for foodies, famous for its new potatoes and dairy products, like most places it relies on food imports. The island can be buffeted by storms that prevent supply boats from arriving for several days at a time – leading to bare shelves in the supermarkets and people starting to panic. But Kazz’s skills means that he feels confident about his ability to feed himself and his family, and that allows him to be independent. He believes that knowledge of foraging would help people feel more secure, and tide them over in times of hardship. For instance, a combination of sea beet and Laver seaweed contains enough vitamins and minerals to keep people going – even if it might not make the most appetising of meals!
In fact, Kazz says he makes a mean nettle soup. He includes 3-cornered leek (Allium triquetrium), fat hen (Chenopodium album) and chickweed (Stellaria media) for extra flavour, and his secret ingredient (which he has to buy!) is a diced sweet potato. A bottle of his elderflower champagne (bottled essence of spring!) is the perfect pick-me-up on a murky winter day.
The harvest he most looks forward to is pepper dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida), the ‘truffle of the sea’. Small, and hard to forage, it’s the most expensive seaweed. It’s available from October, but the main season is from January to April. It “makes your food so exciting”. Kazz prefers to use it fresh (it keeps for about a week), and says that you only need a small amount to add to food, as it’s very full flavoured.
Another Jersey speciality are Ormers, a type of shellfish, with mother of pearl inside the shell. After disease caused a population crash in the 80s/90s, the season was limited – from the end of October until the end of April, and even then only for 3 days after the new moon or the full moon. The most amazing, and expensive, shellfish in the world has to be 8.7cm across the shell to be a legal harvest. Even when foraging for Ormers, Kazz will only take one or two for immediate consumption.
There are also lobsters, and crabs, and giant puffball and jelly ear mushrooms in the woods. In fact, the only species Kazz would really love to be able to forage and can’t is tomatoes! So he grows those in his vegetable garden, along with lettuce and cucumbers. He feels that his foraging skills inform his gardening, and his gardening skills inform his foraging 🙂
I don’t know about you, but I’m packing for a trip to Jersey right now!