A Day in the Life of a Food Forager

What it takes to source New England’s most delicious ingredients for the Ocean House hotel in Rhode Island

A Day in the Life of a Food Forager

Paul McComiskey, the resident food forager at the Ocean House in Rhode Island.

Photo courtesy of the Ocean House

At the Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, resident food forager Paul McComiskey is responsible for bringing New England’s most exquisite ingredients to the dinner table. We caught up with McComiskey to find out what exactly he does—and why he loves going to work every day.

How did you get this job?
I was the opening sous chef at the Ocean House’s Sister property, Weekapaug Inn, back in 2012. While working under Executive Chef Jennifer Backman, I gained a deeper appreciation for working with local farmers and food producers. What endeared me to Ocean House was their focus on sustainability and the fact that they’re committed to helping educate staff and guests about farm-to-table cuisine.

What do people outside of your profession not get about your job?
I think people have the impression that I’m bushwhacking through the woods, picking wild mushrooms, and harvesting pokeweed. But most of the time I’m sourcing unique ingredients from farms and talking to food producers about executive chef John Kolesar’s new menu ideas.

What are the perks?
There are a lot: Getting to know farmers and food producers and seeing firsthand how the food we cook with and eat is grown and cared for; meeting guests who visit us from all over the world; teaching staff about locality and sustainability. I also love visiting farms, docks, farmers’ markets, bakeries, and cheese shops all over New England. And this spring I’m visiting other Relais & Cteaux properties in other parts of the country to learn more about how they approach culinary education and farm-to-table cuisine.

How does your profession affect the way you look at the places you visit?
I always look at the food at supermarkets and grocery stores to see if I can find out where it comes from. I’ve come to hate buying food that doesn’t come from a relatively local source. Also, when I’m out to eat at a restaurant and they’re serving produce that’s not in season, I wonder, “Where exactly are you getting asparagus in late February?”

How can guests learn more about farm-to-table cooking while they’re visiting Ocean House?
I teach six to eight classes a week. These “Culinary Resort Activities” are complimentary for guests at the Ocean House and its sister properties. We also offer private classes and dinners in our Center for Wine and Culinary Arts. The center is a 3,000-square-foot space within our 8,000-bottle wine cellar. It’s not a bad spot to spend most of your day.

What’s your number one piece of advice for someone who wants to get into your field of work?
Watch Episode Two of Chef’s Table, which focuses on Dan Barber, his restaurant Blue Hill, and the begining of the farm-to-table movement. If you are not moved to tears, do something else.

Jennifer Flowers is an award-winning journalist and the senior deputy editor of Afar.
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