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Corporate Lawyer Pens Cookbook About Weeds

Vivia Chen

July 24, 2012

Tama in Kitchen

Lawyers in New York all seem to be food aficionados, and some fancy themselves as home chefs. They'll go to the farmers market in Union Square or gourmet grocers to hunt for obscure greens like purslane, chicory, and puntarella that are hard to find in the supermarket.

They'll go the distance to buy an exotic ingredient, but how many would search their backyards for wild weeds to make dishes like bee balm spring rolls, dead nettle velouté, or chickweed crostini?

Meet Tama Matsuoka Wong, former counsel of Merrill's international private client group, who is now the official forager for Daniel, a much-celebrated restaurant in New York with three Michelin stars. She is also the author of Foraged Flavor, a book about edible weeds (with lots of intriguing recipes), which she wrote with Eddy Leroux, the chef de cuisine at Daniel. (Wong and Leroux are pictured above.)

I caught up with Wong at the James Beard Foundation in New York's Greenwich Village, where she was lecturing (complete with tasting) about common weeds that make uncommon delicacies. Afterward, we dashed out for a glass of Prosecco and a few nibbles of proscuitto to discuss her unusual hobby, which has morphed into a second career.

I don't know many lawyers who are official foragers at a top restaurant. Actually, I don't know any foragers at all. Did you always want to be a forager?
I didn't know what "foraging" was! It's a foodie term.

So you were a forage virgin when you started. How did you get into it?
When we moved back [to the United States after 12 years in Asia] in 2002, I had never had a vegetable garden. I was just fascinated by what was growing in my garden when we moved to New Jersey. I didn't think of the wild plants as weeds. I looked at them, and I wanted to learn about them. I knew they were native plants, and I started looking up recipes on how to cook them.

Bookcover.ForagedFlavorYou got quite obsessed by weeds. In your book, you write that you could only identify two kinds in the beginning, but that you now know every plant in your "meadow, creek bed, and forest—a complete botanical smorgasbord of more than 200 wild plants." Did you tackle it like a lawyer conducting due diligence?
I couldn't do what I'm doing now if I didn't have a lawyering background. I couldn't do the cookbook without it. It wasn't easy. It takes discipline to get things in season, test the recipes, write about them, and juggle all the different people involved.

Your coauthor is a chef at Daniel. You are a securities lawyer based in rural New Jersey. How did your worlds intersect?
I was eating at Daniel, and I brought over some anise hysop. People kept telling me that I should bring in plants from the meadow to the restaurant, so I did. After dinner, Eddy told me to bring in everything from my meadow, and I started to bring bags of weeds to the restaurant. He documented everything I brought in. I realized he was totally fanatical—and I appreciated that!

Foraging for Daniel and collaborating with a chef sounds more fun than lawyering. Are you now out of the lawyering woods?
I'm still working as a lawyer. Ive been working on a project basis for 10 years. Financial securities is a small world, and people contact me for projects. But I've resisted the pressure to go back to lawyering full-time.

You don't want to work as a full-time lawyer, but would you do so as a forager?
Yes! I can see it, but I don't know if that will happen. . . .  I don't think [gathering] fresh greens from the wild is a business plan. It's painstaking work, and I'm picking it myself. And shelf life is an issue.

So foraging is more of a passion than a way to make a living?
It is intellectually and conceptually interesting to me. I'm building something. I want to do something I believe in.

Do you think lawyers should try foraging?
It's great for lawyers! You can categorize things; it's a good activity for risk-averse people. Unstructured time in nature is good for you.

 Hat tip: New York Times.

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Poor Dirk. That's why it pays to wait until you find someone who truly loves you; not someone who will tolerate you while allowing you to support them. A wife who loves you would be willing to forego the big house and the perks to live with a happy, fulfilled husband. Remember ladies, it's not the things you possessed that you'll value at the end of your life; it's the relationships you nurtured and the loving family you're a part of that really matter.

Ms. Wong's preference for foraging reminds me of Matthew Crawford's book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work.

Although Crawford holds a doctorate in political philosophy from the University of Chicago, he has rejected the life of a knowledge worker and embraced the simple awareness of being a motorcycle mechanic.

I sometimes wonder if bright individuals are poorly served by society channeling them into stressful jobs as lawyers, doctors and investment bankers.

A simple life - albeit with a smaller bank account - has appeal.

This article vividly demonstrates the kind of gender discrimination pervasive throughout the world.

Husband: "Honey"

Wife: "Yes, hubby."

H: I've tired of the rat race. I've decided to leave my high-powered lawyering job and Merrill and just hang around here foraging for weeds. It pays less, but ..."

W: "Talk to my lawyer - I'm getting a divorce!"

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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