Bar Ivy Chef and Forager Jonathan Till Scours Virginia Forests for Ingredients

You'll find elderberry and pawpaw on the Clarendon restaurant's menu.

Jonathan Till, the chef at Clarendon's Bar Ivy, loves coming upon ingredients in unexpected places. Here, he's picking spiceberries at Alexandria's Huntley Meadows Park. Photograph by Evy Mages

Jonathan Till has a wild side. The 38-year-old executive chef of Clarendon’s bright and breezy new Bar Ivy (3033 Wilson Blvd., Arlington) is also a USDA-­certified forager. He regularly scours local forests for ingredients he can sprinkle into his menu of seasonal, eclectic small plates.

How did you get into foraging?

When I was 22, I went foraging with one of my instructors from the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. I found my first chanterelle. It was like finding a secret key to the world.

What was the first wild food that blew your mind?

When I tried wild Concord grapes, they had just such a different flavor than the ones you get in the grocery store. They were much sweeter and a little bit earthy.

Foraged spiceberries. Photograph by Evy Mages

How do you divide your time between the kitchen and forest?

On workdays, I’m in the woods before the sun comes up, because I have to be back at the restaurant by 10 am. Also, it’s not as hot and there aren’t as many people out, so they don’t see you in your secret spots.

How do you make wild ingredients approachable to hesitant diners?

You have to make the dish familiar. So the mushroom toast has a lot of wild mushrooms many people don’t know, but also a ton of cheese and cream, and who doesn’t like that?

Why shouldn’t amateurs go foraging?

When it comes to wild mushrooms, there are so many look-alikes, and many are poisonous. If you get the wrong one, they will literally start to eat you from the inside out.

Do you worry about humanity’s negative impact on nature?

Trash is a big problem. It’s sad to be a mile into the woods and find a plastic bottle. I often bring a bag with me. Yes, it helps get the trash out, but it also makes people think I’m out picking up trash when I’m out foraging for wild mushrooms.

This article appears in the October 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of eight books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their six-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.