The Forager: Jeremy Umansky
Jeremy Umansky makes foraged ingredients a focus of the menu at his Cleveland delicatessen and bakery. Here’s how searching for wild edible plants became part of his life.
Picking lemon clovers in his backyard and scouring the neighborhood for wild blackberries were some of Jeremy Umansky’s early forays into foraging for edible plants.
“My exposure to it started at a fairly young age,” says the chef and restaurant owner, who grew up in the Cleveland suburb of Solon. “I never second guessed it.”
In 2006, that interest in foraging helped Umansky when he became manager of a 40-acre vegetable farm in Pleasant Valley, New York, during his time in culinary school. Rather than eradicating unfamiliar plants, he focused on how people could use them.
“Instead of spraying chemicals on a bunch of weeds, we would learn how to identify them, identify a culinary value associated with them, and then be able to market them to people,” he explains.
While attending culinary school, Umanksy immersed himself in the study of wild fungi and wild plants through intensive, hands-on training alongside botanists and academics. After years of working in New York, Umansky’s wife, Allie, suggested a move back to northeast Ohio, which the couple made in April of 2014.
Four years later, Umansky opened Larder Delicatessen and Bakery, where he offers a menu featuring locally sourced and foraged ingredients. Housed in the historic Ohio City Firehouse, Larder’s focus on foraged ingredients isn’t the only thing that sets it apart. With just a few exceptions, the menu changes every single day, depending on the season and what’s available. Up to half of any given dish on Umansky’s menu is made using foraged ingredients, ranging from morel mushrooms to eastern redbud flowers to Japanese knotweed.
“We try to keep it as approachable as possible and then have constructive conversations with people about the ingredients so that they are very comfortable with what they’re about to eat,” Umansky explains. Larder’s philosophy is tied to taking care of the environment. Umansky says making intentional and conscious consumer choices, even small ones, about how we source and enjoy food can make a difference.
For Ohioans interested in food sustainability, the state has an abundance of resources to educate novice foragers at Ohio State University’s extension offices across the state and their corresponding website, agnr.osu.edu. Foragers can also travel to their local state park and legally forage mushrooms, nuts and berries for personal use. A licensed mushroom expert in the state of Michigan, Umansky recommends those interested in searching for fungi and mushrooms consider joining the Ohio Mycological Society to learn what they’re looking for.
“Mushrooms have such a very different composition of texture, flavor, sensuality associated with them,” Umansky says. “There’s literally a mushroom for every desired effect in composition of a dish or a plate.”
For more information about Larder Delicatessen and Bakery, visit larderdb.com.
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