Pascal Baudar wakes up every morning at 5 a.m. to shop for his food and beer ingredients. He doesn’t rise early to beat lines or make sure he has the first pick of hops or grain at the home-brew store. Where he goes, he needn’t a club membership or credit card. Baudar simply takes to the woods and begins to forage.
Baudar, 53, forages just about every day and, depending on the season, eats about 20 to 40 percent of his meals from his foraged goods. He became a food safety adviser in the University of California's Master Food Preserver Extension Program about four years ago and has avidly practiced preserving his own foraged food since. He spends his days making items such as farm cheese, fresh mustard and beer, and he can pickle, jellify or ferment just about any fruit, vegetable or herb.
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Baudar spent his childhood in Belgium rummaging in the forest but never thought he would make a career out of it as an adult. For the last 12 years, Baudar has dedicated his life to learning about the flora and fauna of the California environment in hopes of creating what he calls an “authentic California cuisine.” For Baudar, that means less kimchi tacos and West Coast-style IPAs and more quail wrapped in rabbit tobacco and sagebrush, and beer made with ingredients like mugwort and insect sugar.
Each day of foraging brings with it new shopping lists, and on a recent day, Baudar searched for items for his “forest-floor beer” in the Angeles National Forest near his house. Before he entered the wild, Baudar paused, examined his surroundings, listened for snapping twigs or the movement of a snake slithering in the brush and carried onward. He may know these woods well enough to identify just about every plant, but Baudar always practices caution.
As he began to select his ingredients for his “forest floor beer,” he must, of course, look to the ground of the national forest. He crouches down to the examine the forest floor more closely.
“You’ve really got to know what you’re doing,” he says in his French accent as he pans and tousles the dead leaves before him. Any carelessness could lead to the misidentification of a poisonous leaf. If not cautious, Baudar could mistake mugwort leaves for poison oak and ruin his batch of beer. Baudar has never made such an error.
“When I make a beer,” says Baudar, “I want to recreate an environment.” Building a brand or starting his own brewery do not fall under the list of Baudar’s priorities. He brews to extract the flavors of his surroundings.
Due to this natural, albeit eccentric, style of gathering ingredients for consumption, Baudar’s limitations in nature taught him the art of creative brewing. Beer, a drink of antiquated tradition and scientific precision, is comprised of water, hops, malted barley and yeast. Modern brewers, both professional and at-home, incorporate calculated measurements and exact timing in order to achieve expertise in consistency. However, Baudar disregards regularity in the attempt to embody, what he calls “the true flavor(s) of California.”
“I want to change people's perception of beer,” says Baudar. He prefers that a beer remind him of the dry chaparral or piney mountainous environments.
Back in his house, Baudar begins to assemble his harvest from his day of gathering. In many of his beers, he finds himself using upwards of 40-50 ingredients and while his forest floor beer uses a number of herbs, it’s a bit more tame. Baudar takes out a large pot, fills it with filtered water and starts boiling his brown sugar. Next, refraining from any measuring or weighing, freely mixes all of his leaves and sprigs at once. Baudar uses mugwort, sagebrush, grass, Turkey Tail mushroom, lemon juice, rabbit tobacco and dead cottonwood, willow and alder leaves.
Baudar jokes and calls his concoction a witch’s brew as he takes a wooden spoon and stirs the hodgepodge of items together. However, his thoughtful mind and palate meld the ingredients purposefully. The rabbit tobacco bitters, the lemon sours, the dead leaves add an earthy depth and complexity, and when bound with the natural yeast, the brew reveals a bright grapefruit flavor.
Of course, due to nature's unpredictability, Baudar learns to get crafty. Alternate and, albeit more creative ingredients such as ants or lerps sugar, make their way into Baudar's batches when he can manage to collect enough. The lerps, an insect which plagues the leaves of Eucalyptus trees, tastes like honey with more of a crunch. The locally found ants taste of lemon and, when Baudar has found enough — about 400 — he throws them in his brew for a little extra zing.
Foraging isn’t always a scene out of Snow White. It’s dirty. It’s dangerous. It’s tedious. Also, “wild food is really gourmet food,” explains Baudar. “The flavors are more pronounced and intense.” Foraged food, while not always ideal for snacking on the go, fits exquisitely in Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec or in the hands of pop-up bartender, Matt Biancaniello.
“Hands down, [foraging] opened up my creativity to another level,” says Biancaniello,who learned the value of foraged goods from Baudar. “You’re creating flavors that don’t exists anywhere else.”
Known for his pop-ups at Cliff’s Edge and Roy Choi’s Commissary, Biancaniello has Baudar and his botanic finds, to thank for many of his unique recipes over the last few years. His passion fruit and white fur-infused Calisaya liqueur cocktail won over the hearts of many and he attributes Baudar for its success. Biancaniello looks forward to attributing his forage-forward recipes to Baudar in his upcoming book, Eat Your Drink.
In addition to selling his foraged goods to various restaurants around LA, Baudar teaches his foraging skills and hosts dinner in the wilderness with his fiancé, Chef Mia Wasilevich. Together, they hike out a few guests to a picnic area in the woods and serve them an all-wild, all-gourmet meal. Dishes like local rabbit pâté and pickled local trout infused with mountain vinegar, have been served in the past but each dinner brings new flavors. They advise their guests to “bring a gourmet palate and sense of adventure,” in addition to wearing long pants and sleeves.
When Baudar isn't hosting a foraging class or assembling a wilderness dinner, he's working on his upcoming book. The book — yet to be named — will, of course, center around foraging, cooking and eating California's environment-inspired fare.
Baudar lets the brew boil for 30 minutes before he then strains and transfers it into jugs to begin fermentation. He refrains from pitching his yeast at any exact moment and instead relies on the natural yeast attached to the stems and leaves to do their magic.
Because there are no hops in his beer — an ingredient that slows the process of fermentation — Baudar’s “beer” ferments in under a week. When complete, the beer reminisces more closely to a funky, Belgian gueuze or gruit—an ancient style of beer, bittered by herbs rather than hops. Each batch fluctuates in flavor but always represents Baudar’s sought-after authentically California taste.
“The experimentation is the pleasure,” says Baudar. “I call it ‘scientific primitive.’”
Paul Baudar hosts classes on how to gather food in the wild and make everything from wild sodas to wild sourdough bread starters. For more information, visit urbanoutdoorskills.com