I Want Your Job: Forager

'I track down sorrel and sea beet'
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The Independent Online

Yun Hider, 40, is a professional forager who runs his own wild food-sourcing firm, the Mountain Food Company. He's based in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales.

What do you actually do?

I work for chefs as their hands in the forest. I go to estuaries, hedgerows and mountainsides, and track down the finer wild vegetables such as wood sorrel, sea beet, and hairy bittercress, which is particularly tasty – a bit like mustard cress. Then I deliver it to restaurants, either by myself or by courier.

I'm always meeting older people who know how to cook unusual wild produce, and I often refer to old recipes. It's old knowledge – I'm just rekindling it.

What's your working day like?

I often spend eight hours a day foraging. One day I might get up early and head to an estuary to gather sea purslane, and the next I might be in a forest. I have a couple of people who help me out sometimes, but a lot of the time I'm working alone.

It's almost a peasant-like occupation, because I'm outdoors come rain or shine. I travel a lot to find wild produce, and I regularly speak to chefs to get an idea of what they want, and see what I can tempt them with. I supply wild vegetables to various smart restaurants, including Richard Corrigan at Lindsay House in Soho, The Dorchester, and Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham.

What do you love about it?

It's the interaction with the outside world and nature. I'll be crouched down, picking wood sorrel in a forest, and there'll be a robin chirping three feet away from me. It's something idyllic and special. People have been gathering wild food for thousands of years, and I love keeping that tradition alive. Working with Michelin-starred chefs is great, too.

What's not so great about it?

It can be tough when the weather is bad. I've been caught out by rain and got soaked to the skin, but I can't just head home early. When it snows, your hands are freezing, and you can only work for 30 minutes at a time. Also, there's not a lot of money in foraging, so I support myself by working part-time as a tree surgeon.

What skills do you need to do the job well?

You need an interest in plants, and you need to pay attention to detail – you have to know how to get the mud off the plants and look after them so they arrive at the restaurant in perfect condition.

You've got to learn about botany. A bit of Latin is key, as plants that look similar may belong to different families. You should also be safety-conscious – survival skills are a must, and knowing how to correctly identify plants is vital. There are plenty of poisonous plants, so it's not something to be taken lightly.

What advice would you give someone with their eye on your job?

Get a library together – start collecting books and learn as much as you can about plants. My earliest references date back to the 1600s. The best advice I can give to someone starting out is to learn about one plant. Once you thoroughly know that plant, move on to the next. Build up your repertoire slowly. If you try to learn too much at once, it can be mind-boggling.

When you think you've identified an edible plant, get a second opinion from someone you trust, who's prepared to eat it.

Learn how chefs work. You need to build relationships, so be tactful in how you approach them when they're busy.

What's the salary and career path like?

It's not a business about making money – if you tried to, things would go wrong for the environment. You might only make about £50 a week, even once you've started building contacts in the restaurant industry.

I do this job because I want to give something back, to act as a guardian for the environment and put out a message about wild food.

Yun Hider will be talking about foraging at the allotment on Covent Garden's piazza as part of Spring Renaissance, a series of free events to celebrate British springtime: www.springrenaissance.com.

For more information on conservation training and careers, visit Natural England at www.naturalengland.org.uk; Scottish Natural Heritage at www.snh.org.uk; or the Countryside Council for Wales at www.ccw.gov.uk.

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