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‘‘Embracing the suck’: B.C. chef takes on the wild for Disney+ series

Four nights trying to make a 5-star dinner in the woods an eye-opener for chef Jade Berg
Contestants on Chefs Vs. Wild are dropped into the wilderness where they must survive and forage enough ingredients to create a five-star meal. Campbell River chef Jade Berg is second from left. Photo courtesy Hulu

Jade Berg was cold.

It was his fourth night in the woods and the atmospheric river had just hit B.C. He was trying to sleep in a makeshift shelter that he described as “worse than sleeping under a pasta strainer.”

Everything was wet, his waterproof gloves had been wrung out too many times, his clothes hadn’t dried out since he fell in the ocean three days prior and the storm was just hitting its peak.

Still, he had to sleep, or at least try to. He dozed, sometimes for up to twenty minutes at a time, but would be woken up again when he rolled over and an icy shower of water that had accumulated on top of his waterproof hood poured into his jacket.

“I’ve never been that cold in my life,” he said.

Berg had spent the last three days in the woods on the Sunshine Coast, but he wasn’t just camping. He was trying to make a five-star meal, and was doing it all on camera for Hulu’s new series Chefs Vs. Wild.

Video courtesy Hulu

Chefs Vs. Wild is a new show on Hulu which will be premiering in Canada in late October. The idea is that a fine dining chef is paired up with a survivalist somewhere in the woods on the west coast.

They have four days to gather and wild craft as many ingredients as they can while surviving on their own, then use those ingredients to create a five-star meal.

“What they don’t show on the series is that we had no food with us, the clothes on our backs and a backpack full of sugar and vinegar to make infusions… We’re not sleeping in sleeping bags. We’re sleeping on sword ferns in a shelter that we built, trying to stay out of the rain,” Berg said. “When we came across the food — for example we found oysters on the beach one day — do we keep it? We have to do an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. Or do we eat it because we haven’t eaten anything in days.”

In 2008, Berg arrived on the west coast with the dream of being a chef. He had $100 in his pocket, no place to stay, and no job, but immediately jumped in to Vancouver’s restaurant scene. After paying his dues there for a few years, and bouncing around the coast between Vancouver and Powell River, he eventually settled down in Campbell River and worked in fine dining as a chef. That was until he had a major back injury and was told he’d have to give up his dream job.

“Work Safe said ‘yeah, you’re never cooking again,’” he said. “That led to a lot of soul searching, what was I going to do? That’s what I tied my identity to. I started driving commercially… and started getting more into the wild food side of things.”

It was through his appreciation for wild food that an unexpected opportunity arose.

“I started fishing a lot more and really wanted to start getting out and foraging, hunting, and doing everything I could to have that connection to the land and the food I made. I started posting pictures of it on Instagram and somehow it became my marketing. I got a message one day from ITV Casting, saying they’d like to have me on this new show,” he said.

A few months later, he was dropped off in the bush, and things didn’t quite go as expected.

“In the first two weeks that I was there (before filming) the foraging was amazing, but as soon as the wind and rain started hitting the mushrooms went from being in their prime to being rotten and non-existent,” he said. “We had to keep it fresh, if you found a bunch of mushrooms, what are you going to keep them in?”

All that time, he was subsisting on about 100 calories per day, and had to be in a cooking competition at the end of it all.

“It was only four nights, but those four nights felt way longer that that. On night two, I thought ‘what did I get myself into?’ On day three, I hadn’t eaten anything that day, my partner had been pulled from the game (due to hypothermia) so I was doing all of the foraging myself,” he said.

“I had some sort of like, I don’t know man, change of heart or epiphany kind of thing. The first time since entering that depression after the back surgery and ending my career that I felt that alive. I was like ‘holy shit man, I can feel this.’ I wasn’t just numb,” he said. “I was miserable, cold and hungry, and I don’t know if it was a combination of not eating for that many days or not sleeping. It sounds stupid and cliche, but holy shit, that was a big turning point for me. It helped me find my passion again.”

“It’s about embracing the suck,” he said.

As for the cooking competition part of the show, we don’t want to give away the ending. However Berg did say he cook something unexpected with a sea urchin.

He hopes that this show gives his Wild Isle Cooking business more exposure, and helps more people realize the amount of food that is available right at their feet.

“To me it’s all about connection. You go to the grocery store and get a piece of meat, wrapped in plastic on a piece of Styrofoam… . You don’t respect the ingredient and you don’t really understand… that was a living, breathing, feeling animal,” he said. “If you’re out there… picking berries for hours and hours to get enough to make the jam you want for the season, you work hard for it, and develop a connection and respect.”

Chefs Vs. Wild begins streaming on Disney+ on Oct. 26, with two episodes per week. Berg is featured on episode 3, which will be available Nov. 2.

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Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Campbell River Mirror in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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