Forest to Table: Foraging with Chef Ky Loop

by Nancy Zaffaro

Editor’s Note: This article is updated from August 2017.  I caught up again with Chef Ky Loop recently and was excited to hear about his recent ventures.  As he says, he’s got “many skillets on the cooktop.”  He’s been busy leading forage-to-table tours and farm-to-table tours in the Mount Rainier area he calls home.  He’s giving private cooking classes and leading local food tours. He’s catering events and providing personal chef services. And he’s putting his extensive food industry experience to use by helping restaurants, food trucks and other food services find their niche, establish their menus, and more. Chef Ky is a knowledgeable outdoorsman and a fabulous chef. He’s also a  great storyteller, and an all-round great guy to hang out with. 

Gather friends or family or go out on your own for a tour or class with Chef Ky Loop for a trip highlight. Take a look at his website for more. 

I first met Chef Ky Loop on a foraging trip he led in the foothills of Mt. Rainier and Washington’s Cascade Mountains for a small group of journalists. The plan was to hunt for mushrooms and berries and whatever else we might find that wouldn’t kill us and would contribute to the meal he generously agreed to prepare for us later in the evening.

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Other than wild berry picking, where I mostly forage for blackberries in my own backyard, at parks and on hiking trails, the last time I foraged was as a Girl Scout in the Midwest. The night before the trip with Chef Ky, I indulge in a vision of what to expect. I see us fashionably clad in all the right layers of high-tech fabrics, holding quaint little baskets and steadfastly trekking through mossy carpet and triumphant forest. I also see the possibility of us cold and wet and sliding feet first down a muddy crevice, desperately clutching our baskets so we can still contribute a few meager morsels to our meal.

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Reality is rarely as imagined. The next day, under early morning foggy to partly sunny and dry skies, we carry white plastic grocery stores bags instead of baskets. The trendy outdoor clothing? Well, we’re all from the Pacific Northwest, so we know how to dress for warmth and comfort, but I don’t think Vogue magazine would have considered it photo shoot material.

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And that’s not what this was about, of course. What happens when you bring together a group of writers and put them in a van and in the woods is a lot of inquisitive Q & A, a flurry of note taking and photographs—and a lot of laughter. Time on the road and a walk in the woods has that uplifting effect on everyone.

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The ride into the Greenwater Valley, just outside Enumclaw, Washington and about an hour east of Seattle, and into the foothills of Mount Rainier, takes us past old-, second- and new-growth forest, rock formations, waterfalls and roadside pullouts with beautiful vistas of the trees and hills. The entire Mount Rainier area offers unsurpassed beauty, ample opportunities for outdoors sports, activities, and festivals, as well as great places to eat and to stay.

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FederationForestState Park (480x640)Ky shows us how and where to cut the mushrooms we find growing on the hillsides. We hunt for berries. We see hawks, grouse and an elk with a beautiful rack of antlers. Ky shows us where other elk have rubbed their antlers on tree branches. He points out a massive ant hill that’s taken over a tree stump—which I probably would have walked right on by without noticing. He points out some edible plants.

Learning to forage is part of how I was raised. Growing up in the mountains –Greenwater—gave me a better understanding of nature and where I fit into it. – Ky Loop




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In the evening, we gather for wine and cheese at the beautiful Alta Crystal Resort where we’ll stay that night, and chat with Chef Ky as he cooks.

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His meal includes pan-seared elk medallions, roasted heirloom potatoes, and a monstrously wonderful Chanterelle mushroom gravy, as well as greens from a local farm, which he sautés with cognac. He pairs the meal with some great Northwest and Spanish wines, and for dessert, brings along two blackberry pies his mom made for us. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Homemade huckleberry pie.

Homemade blackberry pie.

Chef Ky Loop on Foraging

We caught up again and had the following conversation:

Confetti Travel Cafe (CTC): What is it that you most enjoy about foraging?

Ky Loop (KL): Foraging is important to me; it allows me a healthy respect for nature, my surroundings & the environment. I stick to a few personal rules when I’m foraging and I believe many foragers would say the same.

CTC: What are your rules for foraging?

KL: First: If you’re going to eat wild, educate yourself! The internet, online groups, foraging books…or find a wise and weathered old mountain man or woman and go on a hike! Second: when in doubt…DON’T!!! Be sure you’re 101% positive of what you’re intending to eat! The ill effects of some wild foods can be life threatening. Third: Slimy or squishy is scary! If you’ve correctly identified an edible, but it’s showing signs of decay or it’s past its prime, the risk isn’t worth the reward. Even ‘safe’ wild eats can become unsafe with decay. Fourth: Don’t be greedy and do use what you harvest. Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to get all of it. Rather, take what you can use (or preserve for later use) and leave some for other foragers, creatures, mother earth.

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Foraging responsibility is key. Here, cutting lobster mushrooms, while best fostering re-growth.

CTC: I think we all also said things like, ‘Shiny is scary,’ ‘Red is dead,’ and ‘No licking.’ You were great about showing us how to cut the mushrooms and ways to encourage re-growth. You grew up in a family that loved the outdoors, yes?

KL: Learning to forage is part of how I was raised. Growing up in the mountains –Greenwater—gave me a better understanding of nature and where I fit into it. My family supplemented our everyday diet with many foraged foods. We sustained on the wild game we harvested. Elk, deer, fish, fowl. That’s not to say we did so on wild foods alone. But garden-grown vegetables or razor clams dug on a family trip, or raspberries from my grandparent’s canes. They rounded out our diet.

CTC: What else made growing up in Greenwater so special?

KL: I love my ‘Greenwater Family.’ I still think of that mountain township as home, even though I’ve not lived there for a number of years. I’m twenty minutes away down in the ‘flatlands’ and I head for the hills every chance I get! For me, the sound, sights, smell, the feel of the woods—it’s like a mental bath. If I can be in that place, at the right time, in the right season. If I can find something delicious and wholesome to eat provided by Mother Nature. Something I can prepare & share with my loved ones. Knowing exactly where that delicious ingredient, that delightful bite-full, came from. That’s what being connected to your environment feels like. And it’s magical…knowing where dinner came from ‘start to finish.’

CTC: We talked about sustainable, fresh cooking and how people are being reconnected to where they live, by eating local.

KL: For many years, people have been relying on supermarkets, superstores, restaurant chains, etc…to know where their food comes from. The growing awareness of where food comes from (something lost for many decades) is a worthy and worthwhile movement. The emergence of businesses that offer only whole foods, like farmers markets, micro farms and farm stands, farm to table sustainable restaurants. It’s reconnecting people with one of their most basic needs and life’s fundamentals, real food. Foraging takes this a step further. It’s uncultivated, it’s natural, and it’s wild. It’s the earth’s gift to give and nothing connects you more than finding & foraging it yourself! You’ve just got to know what you’re looking for.

CTC: You said you enjoy seeing happy faces and people sharing conversation about the table.

KL: My ultimate at the restaurant is a happy table. Yes, people talking. Then conversation stops when the food comes, they dig in and eyebrows are raised, then they come to the point where they may start sharing plates. They just have to share it. There’s no greater compliment to me as a chef.

CTC: How do you describe your style of cooking?

KL: ‘Rustic in nature, done right.’ I enjoy presenting my food nicely; it’s real food. You eat by tasting and with your eyes, but also with your soul.

Chef Ky Loop. (Photo courtesy Mark Erickson.)

Chef Ky Loop. (Photo courtesy Mark Erickson.)

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-Photos by Nancy Zaffaro, except as credited. Cover photo by Nancy Zaffaro.

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Gaston Mckillop September 5, 2018 - 9:30 pm

So delicious, healthy and satisfying. Love it!

Nancy Zaffaro September 5, 2018 - 9:35 pm

Absolutely agree, Gaston!


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