Ali Lauria and Chris Padin: Miami's Professional Foragers
Ali Lauria thought everything would arrive unscathed. It was not long before rush hour on a sunny January evening when she stacked 30 dozen eggs on the passenger seat of a silver Dodge Ram and drove north from Homestead on Florida's Turnpike. Filled with strawberries and tomatoes, the pickup truck's bed glowed red.
Emily Codik Chris Padin of Farm To Kitchen
By dinnertime, those tomatoes were supposed to be in the hands of a chef.
They didn't make it.
A car cut Lauria off. She lost control, spun across four lanes, and stopped with a cracking thud. Yolks dripped from her hair, her chin, her eyelashes. This was her first day as a full-time forager, and it would be months before she saw the inside of an egg again.
"I'll never forget that smell," she says.
Her husband, Chris Padin, wasn't too far away. A former Sunny Isles Beach lifeguard with deep golden skin, he was delivering produce to a South Miami restaurant. When he arrived, he found Lauria, a petite Argentine with inky hair and baby-blue tattoos, in a panic.
Ali wasn't injured, but the truck was a mess.
They had lost more than $1,000 worth of heirloom tomatoes in an instant.
For the couple, foraging has proven difficult. Beyond Miami, the term refers to those who seek out wild foods -- truffle hunters in Oregon, berry scavengers in New York, and dandelion pickers who savor the weeds in their own front yards around the country. René Redzepi forages across Scandinavian seashores and forests for native ingredients such as wood sorrel and garlic shoots. His Copenhagen restaurant, Noma, is considered among the best in the world.
In South Florida, though, the practice takes on a different character. Foragers link the city's leading chefs with local farmers. Padin and Lauria prefer to call it sourcing. Still, the forager moniker has stuck.
The couple works exclusively with small and medium-size growers. This scale, however, can prove challenging at times. Supply is limited and insecure. Demand fluctuates. Other foragers have failed before them. What makes Padin and Lauria different?