Chef Drew Adams spends most of his time in the kitchen at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, helming one of the toniest restaurants in D.C. When he’s not overseeing Bourbon Steak, however, Adams is getting his hands dirty out in the wilderness with his diners. Out in the woods, he trades his white chef coat for tick-proof camping gear in order to spot a bounty of products that end up on diners’ plates later that night.
The Maryland native and passionate forager gathers a direct understanding of Mid-Atlantic cuisine through his frequent outdoor expeditions. Now he’s inviting guests along for his hikes in a newly coined “Foraging and Feasting” program offered by the hotel.
“A lot of the dinners are based off of the things you would find — and sometimes do find — in the woods,” Adams says.
That includes wood sorrel, sprouting purple flowers packed with pops of citrus, mustard greens, and wild mint that “grows everywhere around here,” he notes, as does wild allspice bush along the Potomac. Morel mushrooms are nearing their finish line, but oyster varieties are continuing to perk up now, he adds.
Excursions are currently being booked a few times a week, covering areas around Rock Creek Park, Carderock, and the Maryland side of Great Falls. Patrons don’t actually bring back what they find (due to the legality of bringing foreign plant life into the restaurant), but many versions of the day’s finds end up on dinner plates.
He’s been leading a la carte treks since early spring, taking couples to visiting culinary friends along for the ride. The meal prep process starts before each outdoor trip begins.
“Usually I go out a day or a couple days before to see what’s out there and call one of our purveyors,” he says. “A lot of them carry foraged stuff now.”
One is Arlington’s hydroponic indoor operation Fresh Impact Farms. Friend and Reverie chef John Spero introduced Adams to owner Ryan Pierce, who grows small-scale assortments of herbs and edible flowers that end up on plates at some of D.C.’s fanciest restaurants (another is chef Robert Wiedmaier’s Marcel’s).
“We’ve never had access to anything like that here before,” says Adams. Before Fresh Impact came online in early 2018, Chef’s Garden in Ohio was one of the few, albeit pricey, sustainable farms to ship foraged ingredients from.
Each “Foraging and Feasting” day kicks off at 10 a.m., with guests handed a handpicked vegetable crudité and a freshly poured mocktail (celeriac, fennel, and ginger) upon arrival. A grand entrance into the woods is provided via a Town Car to Adams’ favorite local foraging destination, where the chef’s’ three-hour guided tour points out everything from pawpaw trees to nettles.
“You just have to know what you are looking for. The importance is maintaining the natural habitat as much as possible,” says Adams, who previously cooked at Michelin-starred Plume, Rose’s Luxury, and the Dabney before joining Bourbon Steak in late 2017.
He discourages guests from plucking wild wares, to preserve as much of the environment as possible.
The all-day trip comes at a steep price, but it does include a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings (tip not included) at the end. Parties of two pay $615 (adding guests costs more). Overnight rates at the hotel start at $500 per night, plus tax.
Back at the star eatery restaurateur Michael Mina tucked inside the glitzy hotel a decade ago, a meal overlooking Foggy Bottom foliage below is full of dishes inspired by the day’s foray into foraging. Pairings come from head sommelier Winn Roberton, who recently led the team to a 2018 Rammy Award for Wine Program of the Year. All reservations can be arranged directly through Four Seasons by emailing BourbonSteak.WAS@fourseasons.com.
“I don’t know of any other chef in the company offering anything like this at all,” Adams says, referring to the Mina-run national restaurant group.
Foraging dinners can stretch up to three and a half hours, depending on how much booze is flowing.
The next few weeks, before summer is in full swing, is the prime time to search in the woods.
“It’s the best in the spring — that’s when you can see an abundance of everything,” he says. “I don’t want to take people out if they’re only going to find two things.”
Ramps and fiddlehead ferns recently neared the end of their peak season, but Adams is still finding stinging nettles. They’re blanched to remove stingers and have a cheese-like taste, sautéed with garlic, onions, and butter. Korean mint is an invasive species and has a shisho-like taste to it, he says.
Along with Fresh Impact Farms, he also buys from a Pennsylvania Amish group that runs a co-op pulling from 15 farms a week.
“What I usually do, I’ll order a lot of seasonal ingredients and I’ll just order them without any dish in mind. And we just get them in, just so we can start that creative process and I know that I’m not going to waste an ingredient,” says Adams, in a recent Flavors Unknown podcast outlining his treks.