Natural Bounty Hunters: Justin Williams and Bev Klein of First Light Foods
If you haven’t sat down to a menu in Cape Town that includes some kind of foraged wild ingredient, then you’re definitely not eating in the right places. If ingredients like pickled samphire, wood sorrel and dune spinach have popped up on a menu near you, then hooray, you’ve experienced just an iota of the wealth of incredible forageable ingredients that can be found around us. First Light Foods duo, Justin Williams and Bev Klein, are an integral part of this movement in Cape Town and the pair have turned their mutual passion for foraging into a business that brings these ingredients in from the wild and onto our plates.
Justin and Bev have been a couple for five years; running a business together can potentially have its challenges but the pair have negotiated it successfully. Bev manages the daily operation of First Light Foods and in-between foraging Justin freelances as a digital editor and writer.
As Justin told us, “Compatibility is everything. We realised a long time ago that we fit perfectly together and, in truth, it’s been pretty smooth.”
With their mutual experience in foraging and their understanding of food, it was a natural progression to take this expertise and share it with others. Through First Light Foods, they educate people and share the joy of discovering the diversity of flora around us at the same time.
If you make a habit of walking in nature, you might spot Justin on all fours sniffing the forest floor, or catch sight of the pair combing the coastline in Noordhoek, failing that though, you can find them every Saturday morning manning their stand in the deli section of the Oranjezicht City Farm Market. We caught up briefly with this busy pair to find out a bit more about their business.
Tell us about First Light Foods?
It is an actualised dream of ours. First Light Foods is about the good, wholesome bounty from the earth. Being foragers, we move around, from season to season, following gourmet treats that grow in the wild. From the mountains and forests to the shoreline of our coast, there are delicacies to be found – if you go out at first light. We want to share the utter delight of relishing something long-forgotten or experiencing something for the first time.
We know from following on you a local forage that mushrooms are a large part of the FLF product range, so firstly, can you tell us a bit more about the mushrooms you stock?
Mushrooms are our first true love. There’s nothing better than finding, and then of course eating, a wild mushroom! It’s like treasure hunting for adults. Plus, they taste really great. Here in Cape Town, we’re lucky to have some highly-regarded varieties of them growing here like porcini, saffron milk caps, parasols and more. Justin teaches mushroom foraging and takes groups out every year during season.
Secondly, tell us more about the other products in your range – your salts, preserves and pickles.
Many of the items we forage for can be preserved with beautiful results. We produce a small range of handcrafted products that reflect our love for foraging. Pickled samphire is such a popular item that we can never make enough of it for our customers! First Light Foods also produces a range of craft salts, these contain blends such as wild garlic and porcini mushroom. We’re also working on a new range of herbal teas, which includes foraged leaves from wild mint, nettle, dandelion and more. Justin is currently studying herbalism so little-by-little we’re introducing tinctures and teas into our offering.
Foraging for your own products means that a lot of the time you are at the mercy of Mother Nature; does this affect your supply?
Yes, at times it does… haha! We’ve been caught in some crazy thunderstorms before whilst foraging upcountry, been stuck in a cave after the tide had come in, investigated by baboons and have encountered many snakes.
Have the droughts in Cape Town impacted what you are able to forage?
The drought wrecked havoc with what would have been the usual start to our annual start to mushroom season. Temperatures dropped but the rain never came, until recently of course. It’s like we skipped a season, or at least some of the signs in nature pointed to that.
Where can Capetonians find you?
We trade every week at the Oranjezicht City Farm Market, find us in the deli tent. We supply a number of restaurants, delis and stores around Cape Town with our fresh and preserved products.
Fresh, seasonal produce is a big part of the Cape Town restaurant scene, would Capetonians be eating First Light Food foraged products at local restaurants?
The scene is really something we’re proud to be a part of. We’ve made many new friends from what we do, from chefs and restaurant owners to foodies and other foragers. It’s a delight to walk into a kitchen with a basket of beautiful mushrooms, or a bag of wild herbs fresh from the mountains. We supply a number of restaurants in the city and surrounds with freshly-foraged produce, ranging from tapas bars, fine-dining restaurants and sidewalk eateries and delis.
We are lucky in Cape Town to be surrounded by a plethora of amazing artisanal businesses and products, why is it important for locals to support these endeavours?
The movement to opt for local is growing tremendously, and rightfully so. It empowers not only the small business but the consumer too.
Being out in nature at first light must mean you see a different forest to the rest of us, any interesting experiences?
It takes us about 20-30 minutes to ‘blend’ into nature when we go into it. This usually means we’ll start noticing more detail, through sight, smell and sound. Bev is an avid birdwatcher so she’s usually looking up, while Justin follows his nose and occasionally gets on all fours to get the scent of whatever we’re foraging for.
The Cape Floral Kingdom is one of the most biodiverse biomes in the world – do you think we appreciate it enough? And, what is exciting about it for you?
No, not nearly. It’s an incredible place to be in, sadly most who dwell in it do not realise how special it is. Throughout the year there are such special things happening, little cues and signs about the season. The most beautiful flowers come up in the winter and spring around the Cape when the air is filled with the scent of them.
How can members of the public experience a day of foraging?
Justin takes groups out foraging during mushroom season and these are usually advertised on his Instagram account (@the_mushroom_forager) when they are taking place.
Anything exciting on the horizon for FLF?
More of the good stuff! We’re bringing in new mushroom varieties to increase our dried range, new herbal preparations and teas, new pickles, garlic buchu oil and more.
Justin on Bev…
What’s Bev’s idea of a great way to spend a Sunday? If it’s raining, then on the couch watching movies haha!
If Bev wasn’t running FLF her dream career would be… full-time photographer.
Bev’s pet peeve is… people who are cruel to animals
If Bev could grow a sweet on a tree what would it be? Speckled Eggs!
Bev on Justin…
What will make Justin lose his temper? When people don’t respect nature.
Justin’s perfect meal… steak and wild mushroom and truffle sauce served with potato dauphinoise.
Person Justin would most like to have lunch with… the author Lawrence Green (if he was still alive).
If Justin was a mushroom he’d be a… a morel mushroom – that’s his favourite.