​What Buca chef Rob Gentile finds foraging—and how he uses it

​What Buca chef Rob Gentile finds foraging—and how he uses it

Every spring, Buca chef Rob Gentile loads his King Street Food Co. team onto a school bus for an epic foraging trip at Mark Trealout’s Grassroots Organics farm. Since 2001, Trealout and his wife, Laura Boyd, have been growing produce, harvesting wild edibles and tending to livestock on their property in the Kawarthas. Their products can be found at the Brickworks Farmers’ Market and at restaurants including Edulis, Cava, Café Belong, Burdock, Actinolite and Buca, of course.

“There were a lot of things we found this time that weren’t there last year,” Gentile says. “It’s all based on weather, so you could go back every year at the exact same time of day and get an entirely different harvest each time.” The group spent the whole morning foraging, and brought back everything they harvested to use in dishes at Buca’s King West location. Here, Gentile explains what they found and what they did with it all.

Wild ginger and trout lily

“Wild ginger (pictured above) sprawls along the base of the forest floor. What you want are the roots, which you actually find on the surface of the ground. It has a wonderful soapy aroma and it’s used to infuse flavour. You can make syrup, ice cream or sorbet with it, or just throw it in pasta. We used the trout lily as a garnish—the leaves have a nice juicy crunch to them and they’re wonderful to eat raw.”

Orata: raw sea bream from Cyprus, cedro lemon, wild ginger, trout lily, rosemary. $16.

 
 

Nepitella

“Nepitella is wild catmint, and it’s used as an herb. It’s very aromatic—a cross between mint and oregano—and it’s a finishing leaf that we throw on top of pasta or into a salad. This is something I’ve never seen—I didn’t even realize it was growing wild in Canada. I was very excited to find it.”

Busa: Sardinian hand-made pasta, fava beans, nepitella, B.C. dungeness crab, whey butter. $32.

 
 

Spruce tips and tamarack

“These are both in the evergreen family. The young green needles of tamarack (pictured above) and spruce trees are the most tender—these are the ones you want to pickle. We use them to infuse vodka for our cocktails.”

Tamarack-infused vodka.

 
 

Wild cardoon

“This is a stalky vegetable. You can do so many things with it, but I like to keep it whole and cook it like celery or Swiss chard. We braise ours lightly and serve it with a poached egg.”

Cardone: braised wild cardoon, a soft Stone Meadow Farm fowl egg, smoked herring bottarga. $12.

 
 

Nettle

“Nettle grows everywhere and it’s abundant in the spring. It has to be cooked in order to be edible—it’s quite abrasive raw. Nettle can be sautéed just like spinach. We often purée it and throw it into pasta dough, but sometimes we make pesto with it, too.”

Agnolotti: ricotta- and lemon-stuffed nettle pasta with chick peas, parm, whey butter and hazelnuts. $25.

 
 

Ramps

“Ramps are wild leeks. They’re patchy but they grow in bunches, so once you find a patch you’re set. We pickled them for a pizza topping, and added them to a pasta.”

Proscuitto pizza: nettle pesto, ricotta forte, prosciutto di parma, walnuts, pickled ramps. $24. Photo by Sara Steep

 
 
Spaghetti nero: hand-cut pork blood pasta, ‘nduja, sofrito, ramps, smoked burrata. $24.