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In this recent post, UD described a
17-year-old neighbor of hers, Gabe
Mandel, foraging through UD‘s acre
in search of edible wild plants for
his ambitious and creative cooking.

Gabe has now hit the big time.
The Washington Post

has a long article about him.

With plenty of pictures and
plenty of wonderful details.


… [L]ast year, the Walter Johnson High School junior scored an internship at Murray’s Cheese in New York, then spent a month working at Cafe 2 in the Museum of Modern Art. Mom keeps a scrapbook of it all. Its most recent entry was Gabe’s two-page spread in the March-April issue of Bethesda magazine as one of 10 “Extraordinary Teen” honorees.

“I just like cooking. A lot,” he says. “Whatever I make.”

What Gabe is making these days is inspired by what grows close to home. After devouring the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants and a similar Smithsonian guide the way he does cookbooks of progressive chefs such as Thomas Keller and David Chang, he was soon picking sweet woodruff, gill-over-the-ground, jack in the pulpit, fiddlehead ferns, wild ginger, sourgrass, Japanese knotweed and bamboo shoots.

“I think ‘wild’ is going to become the Next Big Thing,” he said on a muggy spring morning as he tromped through neighbors’ yards, reciting fun facts about each treasure. “I started foraging because there are so many flavor profiles we never use. Did you know that some plants develop flavors as defense mechanisms?” No trespassing was involved; Gabe has bartered samples of his cooking for access.

“We are happy to have him come and take bamboo,” said Joan May while she sipped her morning coffee on the porch and watched the young hunter crunch through tall, leafy stalks to reach the tender shoots.

“You want the ones that grow in the shade,” he said. “But they need to be boiled, because they contain cyanide.”

The ‘hood is also where Gabe gets to work on his knife skills. A year and a half ago he walked into Black Market Bistro with a résumé, newspaper clippings and lots of ideas. Chef Donald Dennis hired him to do prep two days a week. “He came in with a head full of knowledge,” Dennis says. “He’s fun to have in the kitchen. Certainly a lot of energy. His skills are developing, and his parents are very supportive. A lot of parents push their kids away from this industry.”

… As their son nears resolution of the looming College Question, the Mandels have huddled especially close. Visits to the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, N.Y., the New England Culinary Institute, Johnson and Wales, the French Culinary Institute and New York University’s food studies program have been checked off the list. Traditional culinary schools don’t seem like a good fit, but neither does a regular liberal-arts institution, where Gabe would have to work at a restaurant to keep his hand in food.

“I’m leaning toward a gap-year option,” Gabe said last week. “I want to see the world.”

For now, he is looking forward to a second summer stint at MoMA’s Cafe 2 and to a seat at the StarChefs.com 2010 International Chefs Congress, to be held in New York this fall.

His folks got him tickets for his birthday.

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