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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Magic Mushrooms

Uploaded: Aug 13, 2015

Mushrooms are elusive to us, still in the simplest of ways. Why under this tree, but never under that? Why come now, instead of last week, or next?

Lacking chlorophyll, we do know mushrooms make their livelihood and energy from something other than the sun. Saprotrophic mushrooms decompose dead tissue like rotting vegetation and bark, while mycorrhizal mushrooms love the ones they are with, feeding off neighborly waste. Easy to grow saprophytes are sold everywhere as portobello, oyster, white button, cremini and shiitake. So it's the hard-to-grow mushrooms that are most prized. The wild ones. The mycorrhizal.

Porcini, truffles and chanterelles are mycorrhizal. Mysterious and magical, they've co-evolved with the trees and plants around them, working as short order cooks for their hosts.

Tree orders up phosphorus and zinc, for instance. Mycorrhizal delivers thru, well, their larger self - an intricate underground channel system ? we really don't know what it is. Maybe something like a soil brain? Mushrooms serve up nutrients and moisture to Tree, and are paid in kind with sugars created by the roots of the plants around them.

Food. For. All.

I got to taste on the precious porcini at a recent Chef's Lounge in Santa Cruz.

Todd Spanier, CEO of King of Mushrooms found 35 pounds minding their own business at 9,000 feet, until he snatched them up from under a Lodgepole Pine near Yosemite. "It's not too early to find 'em," says the King. "I've been chasing the monsoon hitting the High Sierra ridge. These porcini are 1-2 weeks old. They double in size each day ? first a pencil tip, than an eraser head, thumb, lime, lemon, orange, grape fruit?

Todd walks into Chef's Lounge with his basket of beauty and is mobbed like a rockstar.

He picks up one mushroom - it weighs five pounds. (in total a $2K harvest?)

The porcinis have surprisingly bright green gills, a natural progression as they age. "Problem is many cooks* don't know what to do with mushrooms this big," says Todd, "so I rarely pick them for any one else but me."

The King, who's been foraging with his Italian grandfather since age 5, starts to cook up a 100-year old family recipe - Porcini Friti. Slice mushroom, coat in chestnut flour, egg, breadcrumbs, parmesan and secret ingredients. Fry till golden brown.

"A common mistake is to cut off the gills or the sponge. Don't do that! It's where the flavor resides."

More tips from the King:
1) Don't eat raw mushrooms, especially from the store. Store-bought mushrooms have few minerals. Cooking assimilates and releases what little mineral flavor they do have.

2) Washing mushrooms to remove chemicals is a waste of time. Mushrooms are sponges with no protective skin. They are completely open to the environment. Spray with pesticides, and they just absorb it. You can't wash it off, so better to buy organic, or harvest yourself.

Want to learn how? There are five mycological societies around the Bay including San Francisco and Sonoma. For $25, I just joined the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz Membership allows travel with a lot of fun-guy's to forages all over the state. The FFSC hosts Santa Cruz's annual Fungus Fair, January 8- 10, 2016. I'll be doing a chef's demos that Saturday from 3 PM - 4:30PM. Mark your calendars and come learn about and taste some rarely munched magical masterpieces.

Oh, but if you start laughing for hours, don't blame me?.

42nd Annual Santa Cruz Fungus Fair
January 8, 9, 10, 2016

Louden Nelson Community Center
301 Center Street, Santa Cruz

*One not-intimidated chef is Rudy Duran from C'era Una Volta, a taste of Tuscany in Alameda. Visit his mushroom-ninja restaurant here.
Local Journalism.
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Posted by Steve, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Aug 13, 2015 at 11:06 am

"Mushrooms are illusive to us"

Elusive. Unless you've been eating magic ones.

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of another community,
on Aug 13, 2015 at 11:31 am

Thank u Steve. Hi from the road.. Hoping to fix but can't log in. Where's Waldo? Can u find the other typos?

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Aug 13, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Found another Waldo! The phrase "It's is where the flavor resides."


Posted by Laura stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Aug 13, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Good catch Reader. There is still another but if lose cell coverage soon you'll all be laughing at me all weekend. Frank don't fail me now!

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Aug 13, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Okay, here's something:

"I got to taste on the precious porcini"

Also, I object to the use of the word "thru." :-)

Posted by Getcher Tayston, a resident of Bailey Park,
on Aug 13, 2015 at 5:01 pm

some are sooo delicious and some are not, but some of those that are not will make the rocks at the beach start breathing in and out. So I've been told by my more well traveled friends.

Posted by USA, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 15, 2015 at 1:49 pm

USA is a registered user.

"Soil Brain" would be a good name for a band.

Posted by Sparty, a resident of another community,
on Aug 15, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Are these legal?

Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Aug 16, 2015 at 10:18 am

Max Hauser is a registered user.

Three cheers for the Mushroom King!

The whole restaurant world knows this guy. I used to see his van crammed with boxes of choice edible but uncommon species, delivering to capable kitchens. 15 years ago, two chef friends in Mountain View, to show me what the local ones were like, scored a fresh bolete (aka porcino / cep / Steinpilz depending on what cookbooks you read), the shape and size of a goodly eggplant, so I could try cooking with it.

Very different texture and experience from the dried porcini we mostly see in the Bay Area. (Which I'm told are now mainly from China where they are dried over wood fires for an artificial smokiness -- then packaged by Italian firms like Urbani and labeled "produce of Italy and China.") A few restaurants make a point of using fresh boletes like these, when available. Doppio Zero in downtown MV (newish Italian restaurant run by Naples expats) puts them on pizzas!

Posted by Laura Stec, a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge,
on Aug 17, 2015 at 10:26 am

Back from the mountains. Alas - no mushroom finds for me. Fixed the typos everyone so thank you. "I got to taste on the precious porcini," is my writing style, though I do know Reader that structure is a bit not standard. "Mycorrhizal delivers thru" - I wondered about that. Through? Sparty - I am finding out your answer. And Max Hauser thanks for adding to the conversation here at the ol' Food Party! Where dish dreams come true.

Posted by King of Mushrooms, a resident of another community,
on Aug 20, 2015 at 10:25 am


Yes - these porcini are legal. When foraging mushrooms on private property, always get written permission from the land owner. Foraging for personal use on public county, state and federal lands is usually allowed with a permit from the authorities. Mushroom hunting permits are usually free for personal use. When inquiring at a ranger station, the clerk may be unfamiliar or misunderstand your request if you ask for a "mushroom hunting permit." Instead ask for a "timber forest product use permit for harvesting berries, mushrooms and nuts." Happy Mushrooming! Todd Spanier

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