Charles Standing is a multi-faceted man, a modern day Renaissance guy if you like. He chops wood with an axe, has been mountaineering in the Andes, was a school teacher and even portrayed Father Christmas at a children’s party…….and he can cook. But this story isn’t about any of those things, it’s about Charlie, The Urban Hunter Gatherer as he is otherwise known. As an urban forager, Charlie likes to do his grocery shopping off the city, as in public parks and off pavements. He doesn’t rifle through dirt bins and such, looking for expired Woolies yoghurt and ready-made pasta, but rather, forages within the city limits and surrounding public spaces in Cape Town for items like Natal plums, mushrooms, sorrel and gooseberries. I can even testify to the fact that his neighbour’s fig trees produce fresh ingredients for his delicious Fennel & Fig Preserve ice-cream. (the Fennel also probably foraged along a highway or an empty plot somewhere in District 6). Charlie’s foraging is by no means restricted to land based ingredients either. Besides diving for
crayfish and picking mussels, Charlie has learned a thing or two about the magic of seaweed. On his surf menu are Straightmops – Harders pickled with foraged agave, Peruvian peppercorns, fennel florets and lemon leaves for starters. Main course is seaweed lasagne with minced limpets using kelp instead of wheat pasta, followed by pelargonium infused seaweed jelly – both of them great banting options. All ingredients are seasonal of course.
So when did the interest in foraging start? A memory that sticks out, Charlie says, was around 5 years old when he ate guinea fowl for the first time. He remembers the wild flavour distinctly because it was so unfamiliar. My mind immediately conjured up images of Charles hopping around the city hunting squawking Guinea Fowl with a bow and arrow. He has assured me he does not do this……yet.
Other memories of foraging are of collecting mussels and octopus in rock pools as a child with his dad and fishing in gullies with makeshift bamboo rods catching rockfish.
‘I used to entertain myself by experimenting on friends with all the ‘culinary inventions’ I’d created and cooked. Things really got going when I, very very briefly, got hooked up to DSTV and had access to all those cooking legends, like Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater and Rick Stein on the Food Channel.’ That’s when I got the delusion in my head, maybe I should become a famous chef? Maybe even write a book?’ He knew he needed an original angle, what with the likes of Nigel and Nigella around and decided foraging adventures would be it.
I wanted to offer a ‘total’ food experience and started taking people on foraging tours, in and around the incredible City of Cape Town.
Our foraged bounty often reflects the history of humans on the southern tip of Africa; from the tasty
indigenous plants and coastal delights that indigenous man would have survived on, to the more recognizable edibles brought from the colonies.
Another passion of Charlie’s is sustainability, particularly in the kitchen. His aim is to cook healthy food in a way that has a low impact on our environment. From time to time, Charlie and his mates host pop-up dinners in unique locations with daring and exciting menus. Again the focus is on anything foraged and demonstrates an environmentally conscious approach to food.
Charles still salivates everytime he says one of those confused birds flapping around the streets of Cape Town and he continues to dream about writing a book and becoming famous.
For more information about The Urban Hunter Gatherer please visit: http://theurbanhuntergatherer.blogspot.co.za/
And for a delicious foraged Spanakopita (Spinach and Feta) pie recipe go to: https://lifeinbalance.co.za/the-urban-hunter-gatherer-spanakopita/
Keep an eye out for more of The Urban Hunter Gatherer’s recipes in the future.