“I think it is crazy that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do our own oceans,” says Kevin Kelley, professional sea forager. “Stop looking up for aliens, we have crazier than science fiction plants and animals right here. Put down your phone and go outside!”
Kelley, a wine and spirits enthusiast, began using seaweed in cocktails; he developed a seaweed-based bitter liquor called SeaPalm. Always foraging, Kelley began sharing seaweed with his friends, and soon found himself receiving text messages containing shopping lists from chefs.
Thus, the California-native founded Blue Ocean Goods, providing seafood to chefs across the country.
“I am unbelievably lucky to be able to slide under the water and enter the world’s best grocery store,” he says. “With a pair of scissors, I hunt for the most beautiful and tasty sea vegetables that the Pacific has.” Kelley focuses on 15 varieties, noting that each one has its own growing season and special water conditions it thrives on. “I might be swimming in a protected cove with a sandy bottom looking for Red Ogo or rock climbing through crashing waves to snip Sea Palm fronds. To do this, I am constantly learning about the plants and animals, the ocean tides and currents, and of course the weather.”
Each day, Kelley is up and out the door before the sun rises, driving through the Petaluma hills to the coast to watch the ocean, noting the level and direction of the tide and signs of various aquatic life. “The conditions and season dictate where I go next.” Currently, Kelley is harvesting “feather boa floats,” found along the eponymous type of kelp. “They’re nicknamed ocean olives because they’re addictive when brined,” he says. “I swim out to a perfect patch that has a rock peeking out of the water near it—my perch for a couple of hours.” Kelley carefully snips the ocean olives off with scissors, choosing every other or every third one. “If I’m too greedy, the feather boa will sink away from the sunlight it needs on the surface and stop growing,” he continues. “I’m careful so I can selfishly harvest this patch time after time, year after year.”
Kelley has also teamed up with Bay Area chefs for a new foraging dinner series, where, at the height of each season, a group of individuals will go out to catch dinner and learn how edible the California coastline is. The first dinner, slated for February 19, will be hosted by Kelley along with chefs Rupert Blease (Lord Stanley), Brandon Jew (Mister Jiu’s) and Jason Fox (Commonwealth). Event-goers are set to forage for Dungeness crab, seaweed and coastal herbs in Bodega Bay, which will all be turned into a six-course meal held at Lord Stanley the following day. (Tickets are available here.)
“I nearly fell off my chair when Rupert told me that the three of them had just been talking about a collaboration and this dinner sounded perfect,” he says. “It’s going to be an unforgettable experience—to have them prepare your catch will bring a level of connection and satisfaction that very few people get these days.”
An educator, Kelley has come to know and respect the California coastline community, and stresses that the time is now to take action in saving our oceans. “It doesn’t take much time spent outside to see it first hand. Fortunately, the simplest of actions can have huge results.”