"I grew up in the countryside in the north of England, as wild as it gets, where I spent long days outdoors building dens, exploring. I became obsessed with Ray Mears, Native American culture and living off the land.
In my early twenties, I moved to London where I joined a band, ran club nights and a music venue. It was the whole other extreme of what I do now - not a sustainable lifestyle, and so I built a campervan, travelled around and tried to find myself again.
"I met a girl whose father lived in the mountains in France and he introduced me to mushroom foraging. When I came home, I set up a really nice life, sourcing mushrooms, going to restaurants and trading what I found in exchange for exquisite meals. It was a wonderful, nomadic, food and drink based life which I loved.
"I spent three successive autumns travelling alone like this through the Scottish Cairngorms and Northern Europe. I saw inside some nice restaurants and gradually got more into cooking. The concept for Fire & Wild evolved as I went along. I now host outdoor dining experiences for which guests are picked up and taken to a secret wild location, each event taking place in a different setting. I intend to take these further afield, to journey to properly wild spaces in Northern Europe for wilderness dining and camping trips. I spend a lot of time travelling around, researching.
"I have a crew of friends to help. I wouldn’t be able to serve five-course tasting menus in the woods by myself, and that’s the idea, really. The vision is to tell a little story of the landscape with food, creating dishes that feature native creatures and plants found where we are dining.
"I’m really into Nordic food and a lot of that is about the preservation of ingredients. This dish combines things from different seasons - hazelnuts from last autumn, this season’s cherries and wood pigeons I shot this morning. The other important ingredient is morels - the holy grail of fungi foraging. Morels are a spring mushroom but their flavour intensifies when dried. The jus is a concentrated game stock with red wine, homemade elderberry vinegar, thyme, cherries and garlic, all reduced to a moreish, sticky syrup."
Ingredients: 4 wood pigeon breasts; 10-15 dried morels; 4tbsp hazelnuts, chopped; 2tbsp chives, snipped; watercress; cherries. For the jus: 100ml red wine; 150ml dark stock; 50ml fruit vinegar; 100g butter; large sprig of thyme leaves; 2 handfuls of cherries, chopped; 2 cloves of garlic, crushed; 2 shallots, finely chopped; butter.
Method: Cover the pigeon breasts with oil, season and leave to marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours. Sauté the shallot and garlic in butter and then add the rest of the jus ingredients and simmer for 10 mins. Strain and reduce further until thick and glossy, season to taste. Rehydrate the morels in boiling water for 20 mins then transfer to a pan and cook until reduced. Add butter and sauté until crispy. Toast hazelnuts and then sear the pigeon in a hot pan, 2-3 minutes each side and leave to rest. Assemble and serve immediately with a nice red.
As told to Chloë King by Fire & Wild forager Mark Andrews