Interview with a Forager

Meet Johanna Kolodny. She’s a forager. Which is something like a hunter-gatherer, minus the grunts, fear of fire, loin cloth, and cave paintings. I met Johanna in the Press Lounge, which sits atop the Ink 48 Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Johanna spends her days finding ingredients for the lounge as well as for the ground floor Print Restaurant.

It’s not every day you ask someone what they do they can say with a straight face: I’m a forager. Then again, these are heady times for the dining landscape in the United States (and elsewhere in the world). As competition grows to be the most locavore friendly and use sustainable farm-to-table ingredients, some restaurants are stepping it up by having on-staff foragers in the house.

Over a cocktail (made with some ingredients that she foraged) in the Press Lounge, as the lights of Manhattan twinkled below us, I asked Johanna more about her intriguing food-industry job.

Gadling: So, you’re a forager. What’s the biggest misconception about your job?
Johanna Kolodny: People don’t believe it’s my day job. Also, I’m not combing the beaches for seaweed and the forest floor for nuts and mushrooms.

Gadling: So then what exactly do you do?
JK: I scour the farmers markets as well as farm and food producers for the best possible ingredients for the restaurant here. I’m really more of a “gatherer” than a forager–but that’s the title they gave me here. I’m at the Union Square farmers market every day it’s open, for example.

Gadling: I see. So do other foragers–those people who really do comb the beaches and forests–resent that your title is “forager”?
JK: [Laughs] Not yet. There’s a certain set of foragers who prefer what they do to be called “wild crafting.”

Gadling: That sounds like a way of describing getting risqué on Etsy. As a forager, what is your biggest challenge?
JK: Getting people to eat some of the less-common things that I find. Like certain types of fish you don’t see on menus everyday. A while back I found great golden tilefish and amberjack but, sadly, they didn’t sell when we put them on the menu. The other challenge is getting the chef to consider some of these “new” ingredients as well.

Gadling: What did you want to be when you grew up (And don’t even say “forager”)?
JK: I was always interested in food, travel and culture, but I didn’t know how to parlay that into a career. Then, in my last year of college, I took a class called “Russian Food & Culture” I realized I could study food and follow my interests.

Gadling: What do foragers talk about when they get together?
JK: Like a lot of people in the same field, we bitch together a lot. And, of course, we talk about things that we find.

Gadling: Is there a Michael Jordan of the foraging world?
KB: There’s a woman in California named Kerry Clasby is who great. She travels up and down the state and hits as many as 300 farms. She finds amazing stuff.