BY JOSH DORCAK — We had the opportunity yesterday to take a tour of 4,000 acres of conservation land just behind Emigrant Lake. The property is owned by The Selberg Institute and is known as the Sampson Creek Property. We have been foraging around the valley for several years now and have begun to dream up our cuisine from our experiences with the landscapes we have in Southern Oregon.
This tour pretty much had most of our experiences wrapped up in one tour. The drastic elevation changes and environmental fluctuations were absolutely beautiful. Starting from the aquatic zone of Sampson creek and the ripe springs that were rich in mineral content. This zone was lush and full of alder, chokecherry, and wild rose. I started to day dream of flavors and how to piece together this area of the ecosystem into a composed dish. What is the predominant flavor of the creek, how would I mimic that? Alder syrup and rose hips preserved together. Chokecherry blossoms to act as canopy over the dish, my mind continues to wonder. The basis of the dish is the vitality of the ecosystem as it nourishes the animals and plants.
As we tour upwards through the white oaks and poison oak the hills are a brilliant hue or green and purple. From a distant view the colors sweep across one another, natural beauty. The aroma of the green grasses and the colors of the hillside spark an idea of how to make this view a flavor? How do we get our guest to experience a view through flavor is the real question. How can we get the same visual contrast that we have from a distance on a vessel only a foot away from our eyes? Purple and green combined in a camouflage like mosaic to mimic the natural beauty of the Cascade hillsides.
Traveling toward the conifers and large black oak trees we start to see lichens and tender green tips of pine. We get out from the ATV and take a short walk past an old homestead that dates back to the 1920’s. All over the ground are millions of grasshoppers, still in an adolescent stage. My mind goes to we eat the bugs! I then realize that we need to find a way to be kind and showcase these flavors in a gentle way. I remember seeing a documentary about bugs that the Nordic Food Lab put on. In this documentary they make garum out of grasshoppers (fermented with koji, water, and salt for 10 weeks) to create a umami seasoning liquid. This last October Luke make a large batch of acorn miso that turned out incredibly, the sweetness is quite astounding. Umami seems to rule the upland zone with such flavors as lichen, mushrooms, and well… bugs.
This experience for me was to say the least inspirational and very telling of how much our ecosystem matters to our cuisine. This speaks loudly of why Southern Oregon is producing food to a global palate. Our regions aesthetics and natural flavors are one of a kind, we are now just scratching the surface of the depth of possibilities of our backyard.