Chef Chris Bury on how foraging has become an important part of The Cartford Inn's menu
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 May 2018
The Cartford Inn chef Chris Bury loves scouring Lancashire's countryside and coast to find the best foraged food. Emma Mayoh reports.
Chris Bury’s first foraging experience was a little out of the ordinary. The award-winning chef was 18 when he had his first taste – it was ants on a crocodile safari in Australia. In fact, his trip to the other side of the world gave him many foraging opportunities as he took part in nature walks and camping expeditions on islands off the country’s east coast. He spent several days on Fraser Island where he used a makeshift line to catch fish to cook as well as hunting out other food.
‘There were these green ants,’ said Chris, who has been head chef at The Cartford Inn in Little Eccleston for three years. ‘They were really citrussy, you’d see them everywhere in Australia – even just when you’d be sat out on your decking. But it was only when I’d gone on this safari that we were told about them being edible.
‘On Fraser Island there was a group of us who decided to go a bit more off grid than others. We wanted to look for our own food and have a really different experience. It’s was quite cool really.
‘I loved the fishing as it’s something I’ve always really enjoyed. I used to go out with my grandad Raymond when I was younger and we always had a fantastic time.’
Chris returned back to the UK and his foraging took a back seat while he honed his skills working with top chefs like Heston Blumenthal as well as working at renowned places like Claridges and a top inn in Hampshire. He also ran his own place in Winchester.
It was when he moved back to Lancashire – initially to help his hotelier mum Jane Marshall open another venue – that he re-ignited his love for foraging. It was meeting partner Tanicia Hayton, also a keen foodie who works at Midland Fish in Fleetwood, that he was introduced to the wonders of foraging for mushrooms.
‘We went on holiday to Scotland, staying in a caravan in the countryside,’ said Chris, who grew up on the Fylde Coast. ‘There was a hillside nearby that was absolutely full of chanterelle mushrooms. It was unbelievable.
‘We tried to make a souffle from them, just to see if we could with the limited options we had in the caravan. It really worked and was so delicious. We had them the next day for breakfast too, they tasted really good.’
Each time Chris speaks about foraging he can’t help but break into a broad smile. It’s a hobby that has turned into a passion and most days of the week he’ll head out into the Lancashire coast and countryside in pursuit of fantastic culinary finds. He’s discovered great locations for collecting mushrooms – a favourite pastime – as well as everything from sea vegetables to wild garlic and elderflower. He scours parts of the Fylde Coast, Morecambe Bay, countryside and forests near Garstang, the Lake District and even his local golf course in pursuit of those special foods to bring back to the Cartford. He also finds things on his short walk to work – he lives just a few minutes away from the Cartford – and local farmers bring him gigantic puffball mushrooms from their fields.
‘There really is a lot to spot if you can take the time to look,’ he said. ‘It’s quite easy at first because there are things that are easily identifiable. It gets more difficult as you try and spot rarer and more unusual foods. But the reward of finding those items is also really good.
‘It does mean going on a walk isn’t what it used to be. I’m so busy looking at the ground that I forget to look up and enjoy the view. A round of golf can take a while too and my friend is a bit of a guinea pig when we’re foraging from the hedges.’
Through Chris’ passion, foraging has become an important part of working in the kitchens at this award-winning inn. He takes staff out on foraging walks and he includes as many of the ingredients on the menu as he can.
‘It’s really exciting to be able to bring food back here and show the team in the kitchen,’ said Chris. ‘I get a real buzz out of it and so do the guys here. We do the foraging walks together so we can learn more and work better as a team. We’ve had a guide I met at Blenheim Palace who has been up here to take us all out and it was fascinating.
‘You do need to do it with someone who is qualified and really knows what they’re doing, though, particularly with mushrooms. You must always get help from the experts and check things over and over so you can be sure if they are safe to eat.’
Foraging is also an extension of the dedication Chris has to local food. One look at the Cartford menu reveals a ‘who’s who’ of the best producers in the county. Meat comes from Honeywells in Woodplumpton, seafood from Midland Fish in Fleetwood and poultry from Johnson & Swarbrick in Goosnargh. They also grow vegetables in the inn’s own polytunnel.
It is yet another string to The Cartford Inn’s bow, which has already had a successful year. It was named in the Top 50 Gastropubs list in January, was awarded two AA Rosettes in March, and as we went to print, was due to find out whether it had won the Tourism Pub of the Year category at the 2018 Visit England Awards.
‘It’s been a really good start to the year,’ said Chris. ‘The gastropubs was brilliant for everyone because they look at everything we have to offer here. The rosettes was definitely achieving a dream for me. I’d worked in two rosette kitchens before and really wanted to get it here at The Cartford.
‘We don’t stand still and each year I’ve been here there have been big projects to get involved with, whether that’s building a new kitchen or the new lodges. We always want to move forward.’