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3-05-07 - Fungi fascination: Local couple turns passion for wild mushrooms into business from the Spokane Spokesman Review, an article featuring my eldest son, Kelly, and his partner Renée. It's all here below and here's the paper's link as well.   click thumbnail to enlarge

by Virginia De Leon  
Staff writer
January 10, 2007

After foraging through the forest, they reap the rewards of the hunt: fruity chanterelles, meaty morels, sweet, buttery black trumpets and other miniature umbrellas of flavor.

Wild mushrooms have long been a passion for Renee Roehl and Kelly Chadwick, founders of the area's only supplier of wild, edible fungi.

The Spokane couple has spent years researching, hunting and cooking wild mushrooms. In the mid-90s, their expertise became known to local chefs, who sought them out for their foraged goods. In 1998, their shared pastime evolved into a small business now known as Mushroom Resource.

Long considered a delicacy in Asia and Europe, particularly in hilly regions such as Provence and the foothills of the Alps, wild mushrooms have slowly cast off their freaky-fungus identity among Americans. Nowadays, they're viewed as an epicurean delight and an extraordinary treat whenever they're part of a meal.

"Mushrooms are more filling and generally more rich than a vegetable, but they're not as heavy as meat," said Chadwick, former president of the Spokane Mushroom Club and a renowned picker in these parts. "They are the bridge between animals and plants and can be used with both. … More than other foods, their flavors remind me of the earth and tie me to the planet that I live on."

During the spring and fall, Mushroom Resource sells about 200 pounds of wholesale wild fungi a week, according to Roehl, who manages the business. Morels are the staple during the short spring season, which begins in May and quickly ends the following month. During the fall season, which lasts from September through December, Mushroom Resource offers the more common types – chanterelles, matsutakes, hedgehogs and Porcini – as well as about two dozen other varieties. Some of the later fall mushrooms, such as yellow feet and black trumpets, are sometimes available through February.

When they first started, the couple sold only the mushrooms they picked themselves to local chefs. But demand quickly grew and the couple turned to other mushroom hunters for help. "We needed more mushrooms than we could find," Roehl said.

Now, Roehl and Chadwick are mainly the "middle people" of the local wild mushroom industry. They acquire mushrooms from pickers from throughout the Northwest, British Columbia and Canada then sell the goods to chefs and gourmet markets in town. Many of the hunters are folks who lead a very simple lifestyle in the woods and have no desire to drive into Spokane or other cities, Roehl explained. Selling mushrooms allows them to maintain their way of life in the wilderness, said Roehl.

"There's a cultural gap between them and the restaurants," said Roehl, who's also a poet, writer, teacher and part-time counselor. "A lot of them don't come into town. They don't have bank accounts."

In recent years, dozens of Spokane and Coeur d'Alene restaurants have turned to Mushroom Resource for wild mushrooms. The small business – which donates 5 percent of its profits to Crosswalk – also sells dried mushrooms to area chefs and through Huckleberry's Natural Market in Spokane. While prices for fresh mushrooms vary depending on availability, dried mushrooms range in wholesale price from $26 a pound for yellow feet to as much as $37 for black trumpets and mousserons.

Whenever chef Alexa Wilson of Wild Sage American Bistro cooks with fresh wild mushrooms, they usually play a lead role in the dish. They're not only delicious, she said, but they also can cost more per pound than a New York steak.

"They have very distinct colors, flavors and textures," said Wilson, who has incorporated wild mushrooms into her cooking for the past 20 years.

Her favorites include Oregon chanterelles, which she likes to sauté in brown butter, and the deep orange lobster mushrooms, which she often grills and serves on sea bass. When wild mushrooms aren't available, she uses dried mushroom mix as a flavor enhancer for dishes such as potato gnocchi and oxtail ragoût.

Wild mushrooms – which she considers superior to the cultivated varieties sold at most grocery stores – also fit with her philosophy of focusing on seasonal, fresh produce, said Wilson, who gets her supply from Mushroom Resource.

Despite the fear in this country surrounding wild fungi, the risk is relatively low to those who study mushrooms diligently and remain careful, according to Chadwick and Roehl. Mushroom Resource buys only from experienced pickers, assured Chadwick. He and Roehl also screen every mushroom they sell.

Because mushrooms contain natural toxins, they should never be eaten raw, Roehl advised.

Roehl, 53, first felt an affinity for mushrooms about three decades ago, when an interest in medicinal plants led her to study fungi and their potential benefits to the immune system.

For Chadwick, mushrooms have been an obsession since his first chanterelle hunt at the age of 5. The 33-year-old still has vivid memories of that day when family friends took him foraging behind their house in Inverness, Calif., and the spectacular meal of mushrooms they later ate for dinner. Since then, fungi became part of his being. While his childhood friends would get ice cream bars at the grocery store, Chadwick headed straight for the mushrooms in the produce department. When he was 16, Chadwick got a chance to go mushroom hunting with Dr. Andrew Weil, the noted American author, physician and pioneer of integrative medicine. The experience inspired him to delve even deeper into the study of fungi.

These days, Chadwick earns a living as the fine wine manager for the Odom Corp., but he still helps Roehl run the business while also offering occasional classes on gathering wild mushrooms. Although he's not an official mycologist, many in the local mushroom community consider him an expert in his own right.

Like connoisseurs of fine wine, Chadwick, Roehl and other wild mushroom aficionados are keen on a fungus' flavor and aroma.

Chanterelles, which come in a variety of colors from yellow and orange to white and even black, are noted for their soft flesh and a fragrance that's been described as fruity or apricot-like.

Truffles, a highly-prized and rare mushroom that grows underground near the roots of trees, smells like "a slice of heaven … sensual and musky, chocolate and earthy," according to a writer on, the official Web site of the Western Montana Mycological Association.

And morels, perhaps the best known type of wild mushroom, are so exquisite that the Web site likens its delicacy to Beluga caviar.

"Wild mushrooms are an acquired taste," acknowledged Roehl. "People either love them or hate them."

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