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Lucie Muir encounters wild dining experiences where the natural world provides a backdrop as thrilling as the food

A FEAST FOR THE EYES

Lucie Muir encounters wild dining experiences where the natural world provides a backdrop as thrilling as the food

If 2020 taught us anything, then it is that slowing down, taking stock and being at one with nature is a luxury in itself. And while wild swimming in icy cold rivers and lakes is nothing new, super-luxe culinary experiences in unique outdoor locations – a.k.a. ‘wild dining’ – are gaining momentum. Soon, we will be able to forage and feast to our heart’s content in some of the world’s endlessly beautiful landscapes once more. Come spring 2021, a seat at the table in a Kenyan game reserve or a masterclass in how to cook game over a campfire from a Michelin-starred Swedish chef will be the hottest ticket in town.

In Scandinavia, where foraging for naturally healthy food in forests and woodlands is a national pastime, world-famous chefs are at the forefront of the wild dining scene. Take Titti Qvarnström, Niklas Ekstedt, Jacob Holmström and Anton Bjuhr for instance. The four Michelin-starred chefs created their Edible Country initiative as a means to highlighting Sweden’s abundance of natural ingredients. Intrepid foodies can book one of seven handmade wooden tables in a choice of leafy outdoor locations spread over 100 million acres, arrange to meet their foraging guide and then cook their rich pickings as part of this unique do-it-yourself dining experience.

Even in the most pastoral settings, technology is not far away. Vild Mad (Danish for ‘wild food’) is a unique foraging app created by chef René Redzepi of Noma, Copenhagen fame that began with the goal of connecting people to nature and the Danish landscape. Check the website for foraging trips led by highly skilled Vild Mad rangers, or download the app and go it alone.

Stay and go

Luxury hotels are also getting in on the wild dining act. When Belmond’s Castello di Casole reopens in April 2021, diners will be treated to a mouth-watering menu including cured meats and ribollita (bean and kale soup) in a leafy glade as part of the ‘Taste of Tuscany Enchanted Table’ package. As the sun sets over the Tuscan hills, this magical scene will be lit with candelabras and twinkling lights. Organised truffle hunts led by an expert local guide and a delicious outdoor lunch cooked with your finds are also part of the three-day package.

And where better for a spot to drink in the view – and enjoy a five-star menu – than in a Kenyan game reserve? For the ultimate fine dining experience, Fairmont’s Mara Safari Club is set in the heart of the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and offers a romantic wild dining experience overlooking the beautiful Mara River. Alternatively, if the thought of hungry hippos taking an evening dip in its waters feels a little too close for comfort, you could opt to dine at an exclusive location just 10 minutes’ drive from the resort.

Swapping safari suits for salopettes and ski hats at the Hotel Rosa Alpina in Italy’s South Tyrol, foraging forms the basis of the St. Hubertus “unplugged” experience that returns in summer 2021. The Michelin-starred restaurant’s head chef Norbert Niederkofler and his team will be leading private groups on an exclusive excursion into local mountain pastures which are abundant with wild herbs and berries. Fresh seasonal ingredients are gathered, their health benefits explained in expert detail, and then cooked outdoors in the hotel’s luxurious outdoor refuge which sits 2,000 metres above sea level.

A Celtic welcome

In the Scottish seaside town of North Berwick, Amanda Farnese Heath, the food stylist behind the Mad March Hare, tells Cloud: “I love adding a touch of theatre to alfresco eating.”

Having launched her outdoor dining business in 2017 with no formal chef training, Farnese Heath was inspired by childhood holidays in Naples where raucous family feasts are etched in her memory. Today, her eclectic gatherings take place in picturesque woodland and private estates in and around the Scottish Borders. Featuring long trestle tables festooned with candles, elaborate floral displays and trees decked with lanterns, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped into John Singer Sargent’s painting Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.

“I like the idea of the table being really opulent in nature and everything that is on the table is mindful about nature as well,” adds Farnese Heath, who follows a strict zero-waste policy. Tableware is up-cycled and recycled, and there is not a plastic cup, plate or fork in sight. As for the Mad March Hare menu, each dish is made with native ingredients sourced from local producers. Having already staged events for a roster of luxury clients including Sotheby’s, 2021 could see collaborations between food and drinks brands such as Krug champagne and Aberlour whisky.

Fresh as can be

Chef and founder of Cornwall’s The Hidden Hut restaurant Simon Stallard specialises in legendary dining events held in secluded Cornish coves and on cliff tops. Whether it’s cooking cauldrons of paella or grilling fresh mackerel over a wood fire, Stallard’s star ingredient is caught in local waters and travels a matter of metres from sea to plate.

And if you can’t suppress your own hunter-gatherer instincts a minute longer, then why not sign up for an off-grid outdoor dining and foraging experience with Sussex-based Fire + Wild? Founded by Mark Andrews in 2017, each bespoke or group event takes place in private woodland near the market town of Lewes. Choose from wood-fired cooking sessions, guided foraging walks, game butchery and a fire skills workshop. A multi-course tasting menu is also part of the offering, cooked over the fire with ingredients foraged from the surrounding land. The decadent menu includes wild strawberry panna cotta, wood pigeon and wild mushrooms, washed down with wild gin cocktails and fine wines from the nearby Bolney Estate. Well, if you must go down to the woods, why shouldn’t you be sure of a big surprise?

Image Credit: Belmond

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