Japan House invited author, wild food instructor, and culinary alchemist Pascal Baudar to present his hands-on workshop, “Forest, Mountains, and Desert Drinks” at the Japan House 2F sub-gallery space. 20 participants (a combination of Baudar’s hardcore fans and first-time participants) came to enjoy an immersive evening of discovering local ingredients. The message was clear: preparing food doesn’t need to be a global, resource-draining affair—there are plenty of examples of fresh, healthy, and delicious foods that can be prepared using ingredients found—literally—in our backyards.
he evening began with a walkthrough of the “Satoyama: Evolving with the Forest” exhibition on-view in the Japan House 2F gallery. The exhibition features the culinary creations of Japanese chef Yoshihiro Narisawa and documents the chef’s pursuit of local Japanese ingredients and food-related practices which have developed over centuries of humanity living in harmony with nature. Participants were shocked by the chef’s “Soil Soup” (made of actual soil), inspired by the natural beauty of watercress, parsley and wasabi growing in the wild, and intrigued by the symbiosis between the kōji bacteria and the camelia tree.
But it wasn’t just about appearance and taste. Chef Kenjo explained how bamboo and ume have been used by the Japanese for centuries to keep ingredients fresh, and how shio-koji is a versatile seasoning that softens and brings out the umami in various dishes via a bacterial process. In fact, it’s used to make many common Japanese staples including miso, sake, vinegar, and mirin. Participants left the workshops with their handmade bentos and a good overview of how to recreate this nutritionally balanced and beautiful dish.
Then it was time for the workshop. Participants sat in the sub-gallery and listened to wild-plant expert Baudar introduce the roster of California-local herbs and plants overflowing on the large table in front of him. Samples included water mint, mugwort, yarrow, sagebrush and juniper berries, and were passed around for participants to smell, taste, and eventually use in their own fermented drinks. As Baudar explained, all you need to make a fermented drink is some natural yeast, which is conveniently abundant on California juniper berries. He then showed how to extract the yeast and mix it with sugars from fruits and berries to create refreshing natural sodas.
It was a fascinating night, complete with tastings of wild spices, mountain syrups, delicious vegan cheeses made from acorn and pinyon pine nuts, and unbelievable acorn hummus. The session ended with participants all crafting their own California brew—using the plethora of herbs, plants, berries, sugars, and other ingredients on the table. Just as Chef Narisawa explores the satoyama (“living alongside nature”) of Japan, this workshop was a crash course on how we can cultivate our own satoyama here in California.