Cookbook Author “Wildman” Steve Brill
“Wildman” Steve emailed me one day and told me about his new cookbook called Wild Vegetarian Cookbook. He is a leading authority on edible and medicinal wild plants, in the midst of his 20th year of Wild Food and Ecology field walks in and around NYC (He’s best-known for having been handcuffed and arrested by undercover park rangers for eating a dandelion in Central Park).
His book is a guide for using wild ingredients in gourmet international recipes, it also includes completely new ways of preparing traditional recipes in healthful ways. For instance, there are vegan, dairy-free and sugar-free ice creams, mock cheeses to use in traditional cheese dishes, and even an omelet you can make without breaking an egg!
He was kind enough to participate in my Novice to Pro Interview and here is what he had to say.
Steve, did you cook growing up?
Not at all – but I remembered my grandmother’s delicious German-Jewish apple charlotte and lemon-cheese pie recipes even though she passed away when I was 6, and that was an inspiration to me as an adult.
What made you decide to become Professional Cookbook Writer?
I taught myself cooking as an adult to feed myself, taught myself edible wild plants, began leading tours in and around NY, and began writing about the plants and how to prepare them.
Where did you learn to cook?
In my kitchen in Queens, NY using cookbooks from the library and doing lots of experiments with natural and vegetarian ingredients as well as with wild plants.
Where did you learn about edible plants?
In the NYC parks using what field guides were available at the time.
Best piece of advice for home cooking enthusiast?
Use all resources you can find — cookbooks, the Internet, TV, friends, and classes. don’t be afraid to experiment, but record everything on paper so you can preserve your successes and learn from your mistakes.
My dishwasher, which saves more hours of drudgery than anything (my first years of cooking, I had to wash all the dishes by hand — quite miserable).
Funniest Kitchen incident?
Skunk cabbage chili. Peterson’s edible plant field guide says that you can dehydrate away the painfully-stinging calcium oxalate crystals from the leaves (which are easy to ID because they’re large, conspicuous in the swamps where they grow, and smell like a skunk). After a week in the dehydrator, I added skunk cabbage leaves to a chili recipe and took one taste. After an hour of jumping up and down in pain like the 3 Stooges, sipping and spitting out water and cursing at the author, I flushed the whole recipe down the toilet. In my books, I tell people “The day you find skunk cabbage is the night to go out for dinner,” and, “Leave skunk cabbage for the skunks!”
Favorite food to cook with?
The prince (Agaricus augustus), one of the world’s best wild mushrooms (because of the exceptionally-rainy weather, we found $300 worth of this gourmet delicacy twice on tours of Central Park in 2002)
What do you eat at home?
A huge variety of recipes with wild ingredients, all vegetarian, many from my cookbook.
Thanks for the interview – RG