Just the ticket: a tour of Wild Harvest

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd July 2013
Founded 20 years ago as a supplier of wild mushrooms and truffles, Wild Harvest has grown to become one of the UK’s premium suppliers of seasonal produce to top restaurants. The Staff Canteen was lucky enough to be invited on a tour of their headquarters in London’s New Covent Garden Market. We sent our editor, Lee Williams, who may have got a bit carried away… If you’re any kind of food lover then being invited to the headquarters of Wild Harvest is a bit like winning the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The night before my visit (much like Charlie I imagine) I could hardly sleep and when I did, my dreams were filled with mountains of succulent truffles, forests of wild herbs and rivers of the finest virgin olive oil. I woke up the next morning with the covers stuck to me… with sweat, that is… but still raring to go. My Willy Wonka for the day was Paola Carlini, a Wild Harvest area sales manager and chef presenter with a background of the highest culinary pedigree – more about that later – and a vibrant enthusiasm to match the products she was showing off. It was Paola’s job to take me on the tour of all the latest, freshest and most seasonal offerings from Wild Harvest. I wouldn’t be in bad company either; Wild Harvest supply roughly 65% of the Michelin restaurants in the UK and top chefs like Marcus Eaves of Pied a Terre, Andre Garret of Windows and Rachel Humphrey of Le Gavroche ,to name but a few, had all been on the same tour. We started in a small corner of the warehouse framed with tall shelves stacked with all manner of weird and wonderful bottles, jars and packages. “This is my favourite section,” said Paola rubbing her hands together. “It’s where you get the little things but the really special things.” To illustrate her point she showed me a bottle of Eiswein vinegar made from a rare type of German dessert wine produced from grapes frozen on the vine.  The ice wine vinegar cost a cool £40 for a 250 ml bottle, a figure which had me handing it back like a primed grenade and collapsing against the nearest wall in a cold sweat. Other special treats on offer included fresh liquorice; fresh honey combs; Himalayan pink salt; red, black and white quinoa; and tonka beans from the Amazon region. “If you eat three or more of them you could die,” said Paola offering me the jar to sniff. I smiled nervously and backed away; had I somehow failed the test and was about to suffer a hideous Chocolate Factory death? Next up was the surprisingly modest vegetable fridge. The size, Paola explained, was not due to the scale of the operation – Wild Harvest supplies over 500 customers a week – but rather to ensure high rotation and low storage time hence maximising freshness and quality. Inside were fresh truffles from Umbria; red, yellow and flat peaches from France; cherries from Spain and slender wild asparagus from France. There were girolles and mousserons from Poland and pied bleu mushrooms from France. There were huge leafy lemons from Amalfi; elderflowers and wild rock samphire from Norfolk; and gariguette strawberries from France; “They have an almost bubble gum flavour,” said Paola handing me one to try. She was absolutely right; it did have a kind of magical tuck shop sweetness to it. I looked around; was that Oompa-Loompas I could hear singing in the distance? Paola is originally from Venezuela. She came to work for Wild Harvest three years ago. Before that she lived in Spain for four years where she was a pastry chef at the world’s best restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca. Paola now combines her role as a sales manager with her work as Wild Harvest development chef doing bespoke public and private demos on how to use their products in professional kitchens around the country. Most of the employees at Wild Harvest are ex-chefs and all of them are food lovers. “When a new batch of truffles arrive,” Paola told me, “we all get really excited and we go straight down to the warehouse to check them out like kids in a sweet shop. It’s that knowledge and passion for food that mean our clients trust us.” The tour ended with the ultimate Wonka-esque products, Wild Harvest’s fastest growing line – the modern gastronomy range. Wild Harvest is the UK’s largest supplier for Sosa, the Spanish modern gastronomy giant. There was everything from ice cream stabiliser to nut paste to dehydrated fruit and vegetables – not your normal dried fruits these, but dehydrated at below freezing point so that the colour, shape and flavour is preserved. Paola handed me a dehydrated tomato the size of a nut and to my surprise it crunched in my mouth like a thin wafer but with a burst of intense tomato flavour; next I tried dehydrated yoghurt which came in little hard white nuggets; finally there was dehydrated popping candy which, true to form, exploded in my mouth like a miniature firework display of sweetness. “It’s cool isn’t it?” said Paola, and I had to agree. It was. And with that the tour was over. I walked out of New Covent Garden with my head reeling with flavours, aromas and interesting food facts. I really did feel like the kid who had won the Golden Ticket, which made me suddenly think – didn’t the Golden Ticket also include a lifetime’s free supply of products? I turned around to head back but stopped myself. It might look a bit weird. Maybe the excitement of the day had gotten a bit too much for me; maybe I hadn’t been sleeping enough recently; still I swear I’d seen an Oompa-Loompa…

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd July 2013

Just the ticket: a tour of Wild Harvest