In 1979 I marched into what was then San Francisco's most famous French restaurant. Toting my basket of impeccably cleaned chanterelles, I presented them to the famous French Chef. He looked down his nose and stated flatly that "Those can't be chanterelles. They do NOT grow in America."
So much has changed. Now tons of chanterelles are flown to that Chef's homeland from the western U.S. every autumn. In those challenging days however, few American Chefs had ever seen a chanterelle. I owe an immense debt to numerous indigenous Mexican dishwashers who helped me back then. These men from the mountains of Mexico came from a tradition of mushroom hunting. Unlike their chefs, they knew a chanterelle, morel or porcini when they saw one. With a "Jefe, Son hongos fantasticos! Son muy buenos!" began several American Chefs' love affairs with wild mushrooms.
As one of the pioneers in the wild mushroom business, it is so gratifying all these years later to often hear the average Joe on the street say "nice chanterelles", as boxes are carried into a restaurant. Educating kitchens about wild foods is an ongoing pleasure.
Beginning as a solo forager blessed with my still wonderously rich chanterelle patches, there began the process of finding others in the West with the same passion and pride in picking beautiful mushroooms. Now, unlike most mushroom companies, we actually pick mushrooms. A network of great mushroom pickers has been woven across the West, Canada, Alaska, Mexico and even Europe.
We are dedicated to something rarely achieved in the wild mushroom world. The unparalleled quality of our mushrooms begins in the forest with the discriminating and proud eyes of skilled pickers. Our hunting involves walking right past poor quality mushrooms, which sadly are usually picked elsewhere and sold into the bulk wild mushroom market. Picking cleanly and selectively is where all quality begins.Hand in hand with this wild life with wild mushrooms is a love and respect for the forest ecosystem from which the mushrooms flow.
In this wacky business where stone-age hunter-gatherer tradition crosses paths with haute cuisine, sustainability is the secret ingredient. As evidence mounts that mushroom picking actually increases mushroom fruiting, people are finally coming to understand that gathering mushrooms is analogous to harvesting fruit from long-lived trees. With the right weather, mycorrhizal mushrooms return year after year. I myself have gathered chanterelles from the exact same trees for 26 years.
Long ago I wrote an article that said that commercial mushroom hunting can give a living back to loggers and make our forests economically more valuble in the long term left standing than converted to board feet of lumber. Numerous small Pacific Northwest towns have worked to stop the clear-cutting of forest tracts which provide locals with additional income from mushroom gathering. It is our goal to match our zealousness in providing chefs with mushrooms of exceptional beauty with the same zealousness in preserving the wild country from which they come.
Photo © Sara Remington courtesy of Viking Studio