By Katie Smith
It’s not every day you meet someone who loves what they do, so when you find one who speaks with such conviction and passion about their livelihood, it makes you sit up and take notice.
Charlottetown resident Sylvain Cormier is one of those people. An Islander born and raised, Cormier is no stranger to the great outdoors. He began fishing and hunting at a young age and after his first hunting trip around the age of nine, it became clear he was a natural.
Chantrelles are one of the mushroom varieties Sylvain Cormier forages. Photo: Submitted.
Cormier and his father were driving down the road one day many years ago, when they spotted a rabbit.
“I jumped out and went in the woods and shot three. I was smiles ear to ear,” he said earlier this month. “That was it, I was hooked.”
The more time he spent in the woods, the more Cormier started picking up different plants he would find along his travels.
“While I was hunting I always picked up mushrooms and stuff like that and bring it home and research it,” he said, adding how people eventually found out what he was picking and wanted some.
Over the past few years, what started as a curiosity has bloomed into his own foraging business called Everything Wild.
Everything Wild promotes unique and wild edibles that grow all across PEI and encourages Islanders to eat locally grown foods and enjoy the wild foods that grow in our backyards. Products include mushrooms, berries, fiddleheads, cattails, shellfish and much more.
I recently had the opportunity to tag along with Cormier when he went to scout plants and locations. We met at his house and as I arrived, he was cleaning fiddleheads he’d gathered earlier.
I hopped in the freshly cleaned car and commented on how great it smelled, to which he replied “I had to get all the fish scales out.” I appreciated that. Then he pointed out the blue specks that still remained on the floor mat under my feet and told me they were from robin’s eggs that had fallen from a nest.
Before we left town we had to deliver some produce to one of the restaurants downtown. Then into the woods we went.
Because Cormier is the only full-time forager on the Island, he keeps his locations a secret. We drove down one of the Island’s many red dirt roads and walked into the woods. We approached a lake and you could see and hear the trout jumping out of the water. Cormier examined the cattails that were ready to be picked. We each picked one and ate it. It tasted somewhat like fresh cucumber. It would go nicely in a salad.
Cormier holds a few fiddleheads he picked. Photo: Katie Smith
While most plants are harmless when consumed, Cormier warns that caution should be taken when foraging because you never know what is edible and what is not. He said that while some of them might only give you indigestion, some of them are deadly.
“Some plants look alike,” he said. “You have to know what you are looking for.”
It’s important to note that Cormier is an experienced forager. He knows when and where to pick his products, and also how to ensure that patch will grow again the following year.
Foraging, a continuously growing trend, promotes sustainability of PEI’s food industry by collecting plants that grow wild and not having to farm the land. More and more, chefs are opting for unique and organic Island products, and Cormier is the man they go to.
Well-known Island chef Michael Smith is one of Cormier’s biggest supporters. Smith recently wrote Cormier a letter of reference, stating that PEI is “a leading North American gastronomic destination” and how the restaurant industry continues to manifest the defining trends of what’s become a global food movement.
“Foraged products are cutting edge worldwide and increasingly are playing a resurgent role on Island menus,” Smith said, adding that Cormier is a valued member of the Island’s food scene.
“He perfectly combines his incredible initiative, idealistic perspective and detailed vision with a work ethic that is beyond compare.”
Lee Clarke and Soleil Hutchinson are organic farmers who have a company called plate it. and sell their products to local restaurants. They don’t grow everything the restaurants demand, such as fiddleheads, so Cormier provides them with his foraged goods.
In a letter to Cormier, the couple explained how eating local food has not only gained popularity, but is now at a point where the consumer demands exceed the Island’s current food supply, especially when it comes to foraged foods.
“For the past two years, Mr. Cormier has reliably provided plate it. and restaurants with a variety of very high quality wild foods, namely mushrooms, fiddle heads, sea asparagus, flowers, buds, and berries,” the farmers stated in the letter. “Everything Wild is a necessary Island business, and it is currently plate it.’s only source of wild Island foraged products.”
For more information about foraging, check out the Everything Wild Facebook page.
[Originally published in G! Magazine in the June 2014 edition.]