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 then 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 French homeland from the Western U.S. every autumn. In those challenging days however, few American Chefs had ever seen a chanterelle.
These decades later, we continue to provide great chefs like Thomas Keller, Cory Lee, Michael Mina, Traci de Jardins and many more with mushrooms of unparalleled quality. The loyalty and affection we share with them is a joy we’re finally able to extend to the home cook with the birth of our line of retail wild foods.
The Wineforest Store.
After writing The Wild Table, a flood of requests began for the same wild ingredients we provide to our legendary chefs. The grim and poor quality of the little plastic bags of dried mushrooms available in some grocery stores really irritated me. I saw no reason that you at home couldn’t have the same quality wild foods as our Michelin starred chefs in a size and at a price that you could really dig in and cook something amazing with.
We couldn’t seem to stop with dried mushrooms and have added the shrubs, pickles, spices and the Wild Sides. These are all things we’ve made for our own pleasure through the years. After numerous Good Food Awards and other honors, it’s clear that others love them as much as we do.
As one of the very first pioneers in the American wild mushroom business, it’s hugely gratifying these decades later, to often hear the average Joe on the street say “nice chanterelles” as boxes are carried into a restaurant. We’re immensely proud of our key role in educating chefs and the public about the wild foods now so widely loved in American cuisine.
Beginning as a solo forager blessed with my still wondrously rich chanterelle patches, I began in the early 80’s to find others in the West with the same wild pride in picking beautiful mushrooms. 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 an excellence rarely achieved in the wild mushroom world. The unparalleled quality of our mushrooms begins in the forest itself with the discriminating and skilled eyes of 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 and 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 the 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 36 years.
Long ago I wrote an article which said that “ commercial mushroom hunting can give a living back to loggers and make our forests economically more valuable 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.