10 Questions with KC – Iso Rabins

I love people who make a life in food – their way.  Iso Rabins is a forager – and he created a business & following at ForageSF & The SF Underground Market.  Here’s my interview with a different kind of Wild Man –


Please explain the basics of Foraging; so many people don’t understand the concept of Wild food.  I define foraging as using something that would not otherwise be used by humans.  Wild mushrooms and plants are the most obvious example, but also gleaned fruit, which for me is often fruit from people’s backyard trees, but can also include going to a farm after harvest and taking what is left over. I also include hunting and fishing, although I suppose if you were to be technical, these wouldn’t make the cut.  There is this amazing wealth of food everywhere in the Bay Area, so I try to leave it as open as I can.

Since all foraged products are in their original, natural state, people who are Gluten Free or have other allergies could simply avoid the foods they know they’ll react to.  How should somebody get started with wild foods?  I think a good way to get started with wild food is to get a book, and just start walking around.  Spend some time with the book, and then take it to a park you like, and try to find some of the plants inside. You’ll be amazed by how many of the plants you see every day are edible.  A book I really like about wild plants, although it’s a bit hard to get a hold of, is “Flavors of Home” by Margrit Roos-Collins. It’s specifically about the Bay Area, and has some great stuff.  Of course, always be very sure of what you’re picking before you eat it, deadly plants are few, but all it takes is once. A great book for starting out with mushrooms is “All the Rain Promises and More”, great pictures, really helpful.

I know ForageSF teaches foraging with Wild Food Walks, are there more ways to learn? Are there other networks of Foragers around the nation that teach these skills?  I know of a man in NYC who calls himself “Wildman Steve Brill” who teaches some foraging classes in central park, and is supposed to be quite an interesting fellow.  I do know people all over the country who are into foraging, although I don’t know of too many that specifically teach classes. This isn’t to say they aren’t there (in fact, I’m sure there are some close to wherever you’re reading this), I just don’t know them. Ask around, look around on the internet, or accost the next person you see eating a strange plant in the park, or staring intently at the ground in the woods, they probably know.

What are some of the most delicious items you’ve found at the SF Underground Market? Anything you avoid?  Hmmm….everything’s really good, but that’s a cop out answer. I’m partial to meaty dishes these days, and there are some pretty amazing ones. A friend of mine, Katei Kwan, does a pretty amazing bahn mi sandwich (which is a kind of Vietnamese sandwich with pickled veg and either pate or burger etc.), and there is some great jerk chicken that this Jamaican family makes.

The foraging universe seems to center around mushrooms, I know that’s how you got started.  Is there a “Holy Grail” mushroom in the Northwest?  What’s your favorite?  I did get started with mushrooms, there is a mystery around them for most people, and when you actually learn how/where to find them, it’s pretty amazing. There isn’t really one Holy Grail mushroom in CA.  There are several that people love, but it really depends on personality (for example, I don’t really like to eat chanterelles, I think they are a bit slimy, but I do love to collect them, because I love the smell of the oak forests, and the apricot smell of the mushrooms when you find them).  I would say my favorite mushroom is the black trumpet.  I love collecting them(although its similar to looking for a dark hole in the dark floor of the often dark woods), the smell is amazing, and they have this great texture when you cook them, meaty and tender, and go great with pretty much everything.

When we talk about wild foods, the question of safety always comes up.  What’s your take on the safety of foraging, consumption of wild foods, and the health inspector?  Safety is very important. When foraging, you really need to know what you’re doing. As for the health inspector, I definitely think that they need to be there to check on the practices of people who might not pay so much attention to cleanliness and safety.   I also think that what is so amazing about wild food, and the food movement in general, and why it really interests me, is it’s about trust. It’s about knowing the person who is selling your mushroom, or made your jam, or baked your bread. It’s about looking them in the eye and knowing that they have a passion for what they are making, and that they are going to protect you through that passion.  Wild mushrooms have killed people, but I would choose local wild mushrooms bought from someone I trust any day over mass processed mystery meat that came from animals that suffered under the hands of jaded cattle men.

What spots should G-Free Foodies be sure to hit when they visit San Francisco & the Bay Area? Well…there are tons. I’m not an expert on the gluten free scene in the area, but we are a meat loving city, so I’m sure you can find good stuff wherever you go. A couple of my favorite places are Bar Tartine, which is a great French/New American restaurant on Valencia that will make you feel like you’re in Paris. Sit at the bar, so you can watch the open kitchen.

Got a food or beverage you can’t live without?  This is bad to say in a gluten free article, but I do love a good sandwich (although there is always gluten free bread)

Can you give the G-Free home cooks a tip to the most flavor out of their food?  Don’t kill it. That goes for everything. Meat, Veggies, etc., don’t overcook your food. If you get good ingredients, you don’t want to cook the flavor out.

If we opened your refrigerator, what would we find?  Some good veggies when I can make it to the market (although as a chef, I find myself shopping for other people more often than myself), mayonnaise (which I used to hate, but now can eat by the spoonful), some nice local meat, and usually tons of leftovers from my Wild Kitchen dinners.

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