Participants of the Johnson Nature Center and Sylvan Table event will stroll the trails as they enjoy food made from invasive and native flora and fauna.

Participants of the Johnson Nature Center and Sylvan Table event will stroll the trails as they enjoy food made from invasive and native flora and fauna.

Photo provided by the Johnson Nature Center

Conservation intertwines with cuisine at Johnson Nature Center event

Fundraiser features native and invasive species dishes

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 2, 2022


BLOOMFIELD HILLS — The Bloomfield Hills Schools Johnson Nature Center and Sylvan Table are partnering for a fundraising event to raise money for the Johnson Nature Center 5-8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10.

Attendees of the Forest to Table event will participate in a strolling dinner that features six courses, including some of the native and invasive flora and fauna of Michigan. The food will be prepared by chef Chris Gadulka.   

As attendees enjoy their stroll on the trails, they are encouraged to connect with nature and enjoy the views of the environment, tastes of the prepared cuisine and sounds of the live music.

A naturalist will be onsite to help educate attendees on ecological conservation.

Upon walking in, participants will be met with the first course of fennel, purslane, fermented raspberry, sunflower seeds and a white balsamic lemon vinaigrette.

Purslane and fennel are invasive species that can be found throughout Michigan.

This course will be followed by a course of roast pork with dandelion greens and toasted farro topped with a cider glaze and mustard seed.

Gadulka said dandelion greens are an invasive species that people may not realize are 100% edible. One of the missions of the event is to educate people on the plants they may see every day and not know they can be eaten.

Station three will be utilizing the fire pit to make fire-charred beef short ribs with garlic mustard chimichurri and roast sunchoke.

Attendees will then stroll to a station serving miso-seared mushrooms with basil pesto and cured egg.

Cutlets of seared Asian carp with curry and radish salad make up the next course.

Gadulka said that there is a stigma about carp, but he said it is a very light and flakey fish that has good flavor and is considered a delicacy in Vietnam and China.

The stroll will conclude with autumn olive and paw paw tartlets. Autumn olive is an invasive berry that has a tart flavor. The tartness will be paired with paw paw, Michigan’s only native tropical fruit.

Cocktails and an open bar are included.

Participants with dietary restrictions must notify the Friends of the Johnson Nature Center at

“I am very humbled to be a part of this event,” Gadulka said. “It’s been really fun to come into an event where people are just as passionate about the environment as I am and about finding new ways to present food that people don’t necessarily know is right in front of their faces.”

The recommended attire is business casual and weather appropriate, with shoes that are appropriate for the trail.

According to the Friends of the Johnson Nature Center President Erin Watson, this event has three main fundraising goals.

The first goal is to remediate invasive species and plant native species on the property in an effort to preserve a healthy Michigan ecosystem.

The money from this event will also go towards restoring the aging sugar bush so they can continue to tap maple syrup.

Another goal of the Friends of the Johnson Nature Center is to install wayfaring and interpretive signage throughout the nature center to promote a valuable educational experience in nature for visitors.

This event is intentional about combining nature and food. Through Gadulka’s cuisine, participants are taken on a journey to explore the species around them.

“Conservation intertwining with culinary cuisine is starting to be a trend on the East and West Coast.  It is a unique and creative way to educate others about the importance of their ecosystem,” said Angel Lau, the events director of the Friends of Johnson Nature Center, via email.

“For the past few years, we as a society have become so much more aware of our connection with food and its origins. It is this awareness that has spawned so much interest in the intertwining of food, nature, human behavior and its effects on food production,” Watson said via email.

Lau said she views the Johnson Nature Center as a hidden gem in Oakland County that ignites a passion for the outdoors in people of all ages.

“We are hoping that this event will bring like-minded people together so that their passion for conservation will ripple out to others in the community,” Lau said via email.

This is the largest fundraiser The Friends of Johnson Nature Center has had since 2006. Lau said she hopes it becomes a yearly event.

More information on the event can be found at