Brooklyn Skyline
June 27, 2002
By Jon Koza


"Wildman" Steve Brill strikes again — this time having published The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook, complete with over 500 recipes for the forager in all of us.

Just when you think it's safe to walk across a field of grass in a city park, Brill reminds us that potential food is growing, crushed beneath the soles of our shoes.

Brill, known for his famous wild food and ecology tours around the parks in New York City, not only tells us which of our leafy neighbors we can eat, but how to prepare them as well.

For example, the Wildman provides five different recipes to prepare to eat the dandelion you just peeled off the bottom of your sneaker.

Incidentally, the Wildman was once arrested in Central Park for eating a dandelion. The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook is the culmination of two decades of harvesting natural foods within the boundaries of New York City and carefully experimenting with different recipes to devise the perfect culinary experience.

Like every great artist, Brill possesses a great passion for what he does, creating delicious vegan dishes from ingredients that grow in the wild. He also possesses an enviable knowledge of plants, mushrooms and the delicate
ecosystem created by mother nature herself. Anyone who has ever been on one of Brill's
wild food tours (several of which are led through Prospect Park) has seen the Wildman identify hundreds of different plant and mushroom species, even eating some of his findings along the way, and sharing in what usually becomes a community harvest.

Brill shares several of his passions in his cookbook: his passion for nature, his passion for cooking and his passion for writing. The book covers all stages of the foraging and food preparation process, providing information on each plant, including illustrations, habitats in which they're found, their scientific names, and what to be wary of so you don't poison your dinner guests. The writing is not only clear and concise, but entertaining as well.

Brill became interested in foraging for wild food when he came across several Greek women searching for a snack in a Queens park. "I asked them what they were doing, but their answers were all Greek to me," writes Brill about the experience. However, the women were able to introduce Brill to wild grape leaves, thus becoming his first wild culinary experience.

Having tried several of his own culinary concoctions while attending a foraging tour, I can honestly say that the Wildman has a gift for creating vegan substitutes that will leave its consumer in awe — not even craving the meat or dairy ingredients not included. If you need convincing, try meatballs and spaghetti using honey mushrooms, chicken vegetable stew using chicken mushrooms, or turkey loaf using hickory nuts. You can even make a variety of puddings using soy milk or silken tofu in place of eggs, sugar and cream. The book has more than just good recipes — the anecdotes are equally enticing, worthy of a volume in and of themselves. Time and again, readers will find themselves flipping to the story about Brill's arrest in March of 1986 in which undercover cops arrested the Wildman after he ate a dandelion at the end of one of his wild food tours. He was charged with removing vegetation from Central Park. Ironically, the charges were dropped and Brill was hired by the Parks Department to lead the very same wild food tours. This incident turned out to be the big break the Wildman needed to make his tours even more popular.

To learn more about what the Wildman does, purchase a copy of this essential book, or see the wild food tour calendar, visit www.wildmanstevebrill.com.
Excerpted from The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook, by "Wildman" Steve Brill, Copyright © 2002, with permission from Harvard Common Press, 535 Albany Street, Boston, MA 02118, www.harvardcommonpress.com