Talking Foraged Herbs With Walter Abrams of Le Bec Fin

When Foobooz posted the opening menu for Le Bec Fin 2.0 back in June, commenters had a lot of questions—and snark—about a menu item listing “foraged herbs.”  Were foraged herbs delicious, risky (as in, potentially toxic), or just an irritating ploy to sound hip?

Nobody knew, so I asked chef Walter Abrams about it on the phone as I was working on my review. One of the things he mentioned was interesting, but since there’s only so much room on the page (and because I hadn’t eaten this particular thing), I didn’t write about it. But since inquiring minds want to know…

Abrams told me that Le Bec gets foraged herbs from Tama Matsuoka Wong, whose other client is Daniel in New York. (Someone on Le Bec’s new kitchen squad had worked there, and one thing led to another.) She’d been bringing in all kinds of fun and weird stuff, he said—yucca blossoms, bisongrass, cattails full of pollen that he hadn’t even figured out what to do with yet.

It was the bisongrass that piqued my curiosity. Vodka enthusiasts may recognize it as a botanical ingredient in Zubrowka, a Polish vodka that was long banned in the United States due to the fact that bisongrass contains coumarin and coumarin is moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys—but also occurs naturally in other foods, including strawberries, cassia (a species of cinnamon), and chamomile. An adjusted formulation of Zubrowka has been available in the U.S. for a couple years now.

So that’s the word on Le Bec’s herbs–actually foraged, and coming from a well-regarded source. And if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on how paranoid you are about hepatoxins) you can taste bisongrass yourself in an altogether different context at Le Bec. Abrams said he likes pairing it with squab or rabbit, and recalled making a bisongrass emulsion to go with a porcini mushroom panna cotta.

Review of Le Bec Fin [Phillymag]

All Le Bec Fin coverage [Foobooz]