Saw this article by Nosheen Iqbal in the Guardian this week and thought it might interest some of you. I think it’s probably strictly for people who know what they’re doing, esp when it comes to things like ragwort. Even Topham has poisoned himself twice. Be careful!
“Smell this!” Chef and wild food enthusiast Nurdin Topham is inhaling a lungful of shrub called pineappleweed, picked fresh from a stretch of east London formerly known as Murder Mile. He hands me a couple of yellow buds with an instruction to sniff; sweet fruitiness floats under my nose. Topham takes a chew. I gamely follow suit. The clue, it seems, is in the name: we’re eating what vaguely tastes like pineapple and feels a lot like chewing grass. “This is food,” he explains, as we ramble on, to forage for a lunch he will be cooking later.
The future of food and our relationship with nature is at the core of Topham’s philosophy for what he calls “nourishing gastronomy”, a subject he will deliver a lecture on this week at FutureFest in London. He has two decades of experience in the field, first as a qualified nutritionist and personal development chef for Raymond Blanc, and later as head of NUR, his own Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong.
“Wild food is about connecting to our ancestors and to the earth we’re living on,” he says, as we tramp past the early morning joggers and dogwalkers of the local park. “It’s a struggle living in the city – I long for a more outdoors life – but picking food in an urban setting helps.”
Although he was born in London, Topham grew up, I’m not surprised to learn, surrounded by rolling fields, forests and orchards in the Brecon Beacons. His father, Anthony “Top” Topham, who was the lead guitarist in 1960s band the Yardbirds before Eric Clapton joined, converted to Islam and moved his young family to the good life, where they had a Muslim upbringing, grew their own food and made their own jams.
Nurdin’s first wild food experiment was with nettle soup, made outdoors in the dark with his best friend, aged around eight or nine, and hastily gulped down. “We proudly took it indoors to show our parents – under the light we discovered it was crawling with caterpillars.”
Since then, he has managed to poison himself twice but also to establish himself as an authority on cooking more closely with nature. “I wouldn’t force foraging down anyone’s throat,” he says, by way of joyful apology.