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Day in the life: the forager

Wed 8 Sep 21

Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters celebrates every aspect of our beautiful shores and waterways with a programme of activity designed to inspire both visitors and locals to explore and experience everything that makes them special.

This month we spoke to Jayson Byles, forager, chef and founder of East Neuk Seaweed to find out more about his passion for our coasts and waters.

What sparked your interest in foraging?

I grew up in a family that foraged. My uncles would always call in with bags of wild goodies. Growing up in rural New Zealand in the 80’s I spent most of my time outdoors, down at the river, up the hills or along the coast. It was just an extension to the front yard. So finding yummy stuff to eat from the landscape was just what you did.

What do you think makes Scotland’s coasts and waters so special?

I love the ruggedness and unspoilt nature of the waters in Scotland. There is also so much diversity, from gentle burns to moody lochs and angry seas.

Can you tell us about the workshops you host?

I run a variety of workshops and can tailor them to suit the needs of individual groups. For example, on the very popular ‘On the Rocks’ workshops, we take a trip into the inter-tidal, looking at the importance of seaweed in the ecosystem and how we can sustainably use seaweed to reduce our own carbon footprints and to increase personal health and wellbeing. All the while appreciating the natural environment fostering a reconnection to the land and waters, and highlighting our guardianship role. We identify and nibble seaweed straight from the rocks, and I finish the workshops with a cook up on the beach to demonstrate some cooking techniques and flavours. 

How easy (or difficult!) is it to learn how to identify the different species?

Seaweeds are very diverse. Some are very distinctive and easy to spot, while others take more time to get to know. Lots of seaweeds can look similar to others, but anyone can get familiar with the more popular varieties with a bit of practice. I love seaweed because I am still learning things every time I go out into the intertidal. It’s a journey that never ends and hopefully never will! 

Kelp tagliatelle and laver cakes by Jayson Byles of East Neuk Seaweed

Kelp tagliatelle and laver cakes by Jayson Byles of East Neuk Seaweed

Image credit Jen Rose Photography (www.jenrosephotos.com)

Do you have a favourite type of seaweed?

I love to eat seasonal food, which helps me appreciate each seaweed as it comes into season. It’s tremendously difficult to choose a favourite, but sea spaghetti is definitely on the list as it is just so easy to use. It can be nibbled straight from the rocks but can also be used as a pasta/noodle alternative and needs little to no preparation. It also goes with so many flavours, so it is super versatile. 

What different ways do you use seaweed in cooking?

Seaweed is a very versatile ingredient with many different flavours and textures across a multitude of varieties. It can be fried and served crispy for breakfast or a snack. It can be steamed as a vegetable or used as an alternative to pasta or noodles, including lasagne sheets! It can be sprinkled as a seasoning or pickled and served with cheese, and that’s just for starters!

Can you tell us about the event you’re doing as part of the Isle Martin Seaweed Festival?

My workshops will be very informal; we will gather around the firepit. I will cook seaweed dishes for people to sample while discussing flavours and techniques to cook with Seaweed.

Do you have a favourite place or memory connected to Scotland’s coast or waters?

The first sunrise I got in the East Neuk of Fife 6 years ago, I was greeted by the heron as I stood in the low tide. Herons are infrequent and prized visitors to New Zealand. However, it was the first time I had seen one in Scotland, and to be so close with such a beautiful backdrop was very magical.

Find out more about Jayson and the workshops he leads at East Neuk Seaweed and take a look at the full programme for the Isle Martin Seaweed Festival, which runs from 6-12 September 2021 as part of the Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21.

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