THE first ever Great Wild Food Contest has been won by Anthony Blower with a stunning octopus dish accompanied by some imaginative wild ingredients.
Anthony triumphed with a rare level of skilled cookery that would not have looked out of place in the finals of Masterchef.
Accompanying his perfectly grilled octopus were the foraged ingredients of wild garlic for pesto, field clover (or hop trefoil) shoots and, undoubtedly the star of the show, crown tipped coral mushrooms (artomyces pyxidatus).
The mushrooms had been pickled after being simmered in a brine of rice wine vinegar, black peppercorns and sea salt.
Narrowly missing out on top prize were two finalists who proved almost impossible to separate, with the judges having to take a deadline extension to fully debate the worthy merits of each entry. All, of course, without being able to taste or smell the dishes.
Maxwell Levy delivered one of the most impressively-foraged dishes of the entire contest with his mouthwatering venison stew which contained hogweed, nettle, three cornered leek, ramsons, porcini mushrooms, wood ear, ground wood avens root, juniper berries, ground ivy, dandelion root, garlic mustard, bay leaves and rosemary.
The stew’s presentation may not have had the flair of the other two finalists but there was nothing throughout the whole competition to match it for ingredients and general comforting warmth of pure foraged heartiness.
The third finalist – Gemma Thurgood – delivered a visually stunning paella which was as eye-catching as it was ambitious. A traditional Valencian-style paella using ‘chicken of the woods’ – easily the most popular ingredient of all the Great Wild Food Contest entries, making it onto more than a quarter of the presented dishes.
Gemma’s twist on a classic also contained hogweed, and was garnished with pink purslane flowers, dog rose, wild fennel and wild garlic buds. It was an exquisitely-presented triumph that deserved a taste test – something the current health restrictions prevented for the inaugural competition, and hopefully something that Gemma and her co-finalists will be able to capitalise on next time (assuming we do it again – it was only for a bit of lockdown fun, after all).
As you will probably realise from reading these delicious descriptions, choosing a winner proved to be an almost impossible task. However, thanks to expert help from Marquis de Stowe of the Wild Food and Hedgewitchery Group as well as Cees Bees of Wild Free Food a unanimous decision was reached and announced live on the Bushcraft and Outdoors For Beginners page as well as fed live over the Wild Parkin Twitter account.
Huge congratulations to Anthony for some remarkably refined work, but congratulations also to Gemma and Maxwell for reaching the gripping final.
On behalf of all the judges, we would like to thank everyone who took part. Particularly the three finalists – you may never know just how agonisingly close the judging of the final three was!
Thanks also to TOG24 for providing splendid prizes which will be on their way to Anthony very soon.