WASHINGTON • What is equally as crucial as learning to read and write? For Rene Redzepi, founder of Noma and possibly the world's most influential chef, the answer is: "Everyone in the world should grow up as a forager."
"Knowing your ABCs in nature, the flora and fauna, the patterns of the landscape and the rhythm of the seasons" is important, he noted.
Recently, at the World's 50 Best Restaurants' 15th anniversary event in Barcelona, he announced the launch of an international programme that aims to connect people to nature and the landscape.
The centrepiece of Vild Mad (Wild Food) is a free mobile app that explains how to read a landscape and unlock its culinary potential.
He said at the event: "If they see how much we depend upon it and if they grow up loving it, then they will fight to take care of it."
Redzepi's reputation was forged in Copenhagen, where Noma employed professional foragers to fill the restaurant's larder. Despite Denmark's limited bounty compared with more southerly regions, foraging and preserving are foundations of Nordic culture.
"The surprises we've had," said Redzepi, 39, include "plucking grass from rotten seaweed to find it tastes like coriander, harvesting pineapple weed from cracks in the sidewalks or biting into an ant to find it tastes just like lemon."
After figuring it out in chilly Scandinavia, he began imagining what was possible elsewhere.
This spring, he opened a Noma pop-up in Tulum, Mexico, and designed the menu around what could be harvested locally.
Langdon Cook, a Seattle forager and author, said the surprise-and- reward aspect touted by Redzepi is one reason foraging is trending.
"It's the treasure hunt which is incredibly primal. People are rediscovering these ancestral motivations that they didn't even know they had," Cook noted.
Foraging requires time, patience, curiosity and a keen use of the senses.
The vast majority of work has traditionally been for botanical or medicinal purposes, but Vild Mad and other contemporary foragers look to the ground as a grocer.
At home, wild food encourages children to try things they would not otherwise eat. Bitter greens and herbs, for instance, can be exciting when kids collect them themselves.
More than identification, the app incorporates education, reflections and explanations by Redzepi.
Available in English and Danish, the app and website house an encyclopaedia of foraging and culinary information on 105 wild plants in the Nordic region.
Users get tips on how to identify, harvest and cook the wild plants.
"How might the world look different if we all were foragers?" Redzepi asked in a telephone interview from Copenhagen.
"We hope that our programme can be an inspiration for others to do the same in different countries and cultures."
Later this summer, Vild Mad will update the app with more recipes from 80 influential chefs, including Daniel Humm, Magnus Nilsson and Redzepi.
The app is funded by a Danish foundation that invested US$1.25 million (S$1.73 million) and was developed by Mad, Redzepi's non-profit organisation which started in 2011 to produce an eponymous international food symposium.
More than 11,000 people reacted to the announcement of the app via Facebook in the first few hours and 1,000 people downloaded it before it was officially announced.
On Aug 27, Redzepi will host a gathering outside Copenhagen, with music, foraging trips and seminars on cooking with wild foods.
"It is an amazing feeling to distil 14 years of knowledge and energy into something that is open to the public," he said.
"We simply can't wait to share all of this."