Posted December 26, 2012

Chef Danny Bortnick: Kimpton’s Foraging Fan

Eat + Drink

We’ve spent the whole year giving you an insider’s look at what makes the Kimpton restaurant experience special with Behind the Apron: Dishing with Kimpton Chefs. After tinkering with culinary infusions, making sweet and savory desserts, playing with fire, and honing our knife skills, we wind things down in the wild. Our final installment in our yearlong culinary journey is Forage, and it celebrates the bounty of ingredients that can be found in nature.

You can read our interviews with Forage chefs online. Here, we dig even deeper into the subject with Danny Bortnick, Executive Chef at Firefly restaurant in Washington D.C. Danny proves you don’t need to go far to forage for fresh, healthy ingredients – he finds them in parks and grasslands in the city. Sometimes, his discoveries wind up in the creative American comfort food he dishes at Firefly.

Life is Suite: Winter is here. Are you still foraging?

Danny Bortnick: It gets tougher. Root vegetables stop growing when weather takes a turn and there is less sunlight. They’re still there, but there are no leafy tops to signal their presence. But there are ways to forage, even in these conditions. You note the specific locations where you found things previously. Or take advantage of the delicious falling chestnuts.

LIS: Chestnuts do sound good. What kind of dishes have you made with them?

DB: Sometimes we roast them and put them in the hotel lobby {at Hotel Monaco D.C.} for our guests to crack and snack on. I’ve used them in the restaurant in a stuffed duck breast. We butterflied the duck breast and made a chestnut-apple filling, and wrapped the whole thing in bacon. I’ve also candied chestnuts and served them with swordfish.

LIS: You’re also a fan of foraged greens.

DB: They are so easy to come across, especially lamb’s quarters, which is great in salad. You can forage for greens in spring all the way through fall.

LIS: Any luck with mushrooms?

DB: For mushrooms, you should go out foraging with an expert and get the lay of the land. People are secretive about finding mushrooms. Amateur foragers may cross right over them, maybe even ruin them, without realizing. So if foragers know the spots in which they grow, they tend to keep the information to themselves. Also, if you’re looking in an urban area, you have to hit it just right. One day, there are tons and you come back one day later and they’re gone. Mushrooms are much more likely to be spotted in forests, where they get the coverage and protection from fallen pine needles and leaves. They need a moist, dark environment to flourish.

LIS: You use a lot of mushrooms at Firefly. What kinds are your favorites?

DB: I really enjoy morels. In the spring, we sauté them with shallots, garlic, butter and olive oil and finish them with sherry. I also love porcini mushrooms. We’ve done risotto with porcini mushrooms, roasted pumpkin and sage. At other times, we pickle wild mushrooms and preserve them in oil; later, we roast and serve them with roasted chicken served with potato and leek pudding.

LIS: Any tips for a beginning forager?

DB: There are books that can help you with the search and the cooking. I especially like Connie Green’s The Wild Table.

LIS: You could say that foraged foods are the ultimate in “shopping local.”

DB: Foraged foods are hyper-hyper seasonal. If you appreciate the value of using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients then you don’t get any better than what you find foraging. You are getting the food in its pure form, as it’s meant to be eaten. The flavors are what they should be. In fact, you can’t beat them.

Dig right into Chef Danny Bortnick’s ultra-seasonal fare at Firefly, 1310 New Hampshire Avenue Northwest, Washington D.C. (202-861-1310 or


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