Alysia Vasey is set to hit our TV screens with a double whammy – featuring on James Martin’s Saturday Morning and Ainsley’s Good Mood Food. But who is the Yorkshire Forager and why is she highly respected by the world’s top chefs?
Who is Alysia Vasey The Yorkshire Forager?
Some of Alysia’s earliest memories are from wondering through the woods and over the moors surrounding her Yorkshire home with her grandad.
“All through my childhood, my little brother and I spent our weekends following him around the countryside as he searched for plants, nuts, mushrooms and fruit. Depending on the season and the weather, we’d come home with basketfuls of mushrooms, sorrel, young dandelion leaves, wild garlic, bilberries, blackberries the woodland raspberries that were his favourite, or sweet chestnuts and beechnuts.”
It was her days spent with her grandad that was the catalyst for her career.
Now a botanicals expert and wild food consultant, Alysia supplies some of the world’s top chefs and restaurants – including René Redzepi, owner of three Michelin-starred restaurant Noma – with fresh produce handpicked from Yorkshire landscapes.
Her contacts book is a ‘who’s who’ of fine dining, including Michelin-star chefs who are eager to enhance their menus with some of nature’s most elusive and exclusive finds.
Being on TV
“It’s crazy to be honest, I mean, I just pick weeds for a living,” laughs Alysia.
“Did you know that I actually got on James Martin’s Saturday Morning because of the feature in Savour Magazine? A member of the production team read the article and, a little later down the line, I appeared on the show,” added the Yorkshire lass who’s appeared on our screens over the last two years.
“Me and James just hit it off. I remember the first time I appeared on the show, and Martin Kemp was there too. He just casually walked into the room where I was and offered me some toast. I almost did a runner as I was that nervous but when the cameras came on and I was in front of James, it was like a lightning bolt just hit me; our chemistry was amazing and he loved the caramel sauce I made!
“My life is surreal. I’ve been doing lots of filming with James and Ainsley for his show, too. I’ve featured on BBC’s Countryfile. I specialise in botanicals and wild plants and have become respected for that by some of the most celebrated chefs in the industry, so I think it’s important I stick to that for my own credibility.”
Alysia admits that being recognised in the street is weird and says that she’s not bothered about being famous, but instead, wants to pass on her knowledge in the hope of inspiring people to eat what’s on their doorstep.
“I never watch myself on TV, I’m not auditioning for Love Island, I’m just a relatively normal person who knows a lot about botanicals and foraging for food. That runs through my DNA.
“I want to make food in the countryside accessible to everyone, so people have the knowledge to go picking plants, fruits and nuts and know how to use the items in their own kitchen.”
Working with the world’s best chefs
With her encyclopedic knowledge, Alysia has become the go-to authority for the world’s leading chefs
She counts the likes of Michael Wignall of The Angel at Hetton, in Skipton; Mark Birchall of Moor Hall, in Lancashire; Andrew Pern of the Star Inn at Harome, North Yorkshire and many more as clients.
“When you have such acclaimed chefs saying you’re top of your game and that your passion and respect for your field really makes their job easier, you know you’re doing well – it’s just a massive compliment.”
Alysia works with chefs to explain flavour profiles, the history of plants, their medicinal or culinary properties, how to prepare and preserve them.
“There are 4,500 different types of mushrooms growing in the UK, a lot of them look alike. About ten percent are wonderfully edible. Two percent are deadly and would destroy you from the inside out,” said Alysia.
Using nature’s larder to provide the chefs with top produce means Alysia has to have a thorough understanding of the landscape.
“My mind works like a calendar; a chef who has created a new menu will have done it in advance, and there will have been a testing phase. I need to know the ingredients, when those ingredients are available and how long for.
“In January, I can tell what kind of fruit and nut year we will have from the amount of rain and frost we have had.
“If there’s good rain in Spring, it will help the water retention in the soil which will in turn help the trees, so I know there will be good nuts. Knowing all this is vital to be able to provide the chefs with knowledge and ingredients to help dictate their menus.”
The art of alchemy
Last year, Alysia released a gin in partnership with Poetic License Distillery in Sunderland – Yorkshire Foragers Gin.
But it wasn’t her first dabble with alchemy. She has made unique gins using British foraged ingredients, one which won gold at the 2018 SIP Awards in San Francisco – the Oscars of the alcoholic beverage world. Her new Yorkshire Foragers gin has been finely tuned to transport drinkers to the wilds of the Yorkshire moors, the winding rivers through picturesque villages and ancient Limestone woodlands.
“Creating a gin isn’t too dissimilar to making a curry; because you use a lot of the base ingredients that make up a good curry. But it can be trial and error. Some gins smell amazing like perfume then taste like nail varnish remover. I changed the base recipe six times and the top and bottom notes maybe 12 times that I think the distillery were getting fed up with me. But when they asked me to write a flavour profile it just confirmed I know what I’m on about.”
Alysia was also commissioned by leading vodka brand Grey Goose to reinvigorate the drinks with new flavours.
“I can’t really talk much about the project as the products are in a research and development phase but it’s super exciting to know that when they’re released, and I see them on the shelves, that I was part of that.
In the future, Alysia hopes to bring out her own product range.
“I’d love to have my own range of Yorkshire Forager products featuring wild ingredients. It goes back to my ethos of being able to teach people what wonderful ingredients we have at our fingertips in nature’s natural larder.”
Watch Alysia Vasey, The Yorkshire Forager, on Ainsley’s Good Mood Food on Thursday 28th October and ITV’s James Martin’s Saturday Morning on October 30th at 9.30am.