“Keep me in the dark and cover me with shit.”
Chapter One, Verse One, “The Mushroom Bible.”
Being in the food business, I felt kin to mushrooms.
With a staff of thirty, I was often treated like another of the chanterelles.
Today’s post illustrates some of my adventures.
Today is Sunday, August 12
This is my 124th consecutive daily posting.
Time is 5.30am and facing a cloudy day with moderate temperatures.
Today’s dinner is leftovers.
What is a mushroom?
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Try it with a recipe, for example.
Follow Up: Travel
So yesterday I received a shipment of cardboard boxes, shipped broken down for easier transport.
I got help to fold them into shape, leaving me with 8 small boxes: 15”L x 12”W x 10H and 4 medium boxes, 18”L x 15W x 14H.
Three weeks before I start out I’m packing, placing obvious items into the boxes, planning to live out of the boxes now when I can make adjustments.
Started a list of items that will go loose into the car, like the printer and my “Better Restaurant Clothes.”
We may take a credit if we know the word without referring to the definition hereunder.
A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus, predominantly one of the many species of the genus Tuber.
Truffles are ectomycorrhizal fungi and are therefore usually found in close association with tree roots. Spore dispersal is accomplished through fungivores, animals that eat fungi.
Some of the truffle species are highly prized as food.
French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called truffles "the diamond of the kitchen".
Edible truffles are held in high esteem in French, Croatian, Georgian, Bulgarian, Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern, and Spanish cuisine, as well as in international haute cuisine
Thank you, Wikipedia.
Jasper White (born 1954, New Jersey) is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author who is recognized as one of the leading authorities on New England food and its history, in particular seafood.
White credits his Italian grandmother for his interest in food.
He enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America in June 1975 and graduated in 1976.
In 1979, he met Lydia Shire, another aspiring chef.
They worked together at many of the respected hotel dining rooms in Boston such as The Copley Plaza, The Parker House, and The Bostonian Hotel.
Shire considers White to be her mentor, and "her best cook friend in the world."
In 1983 he opened Jasper's, a restaurant on Boston's waterfront.
It was here that he "carved out a niche in the local food scene deconstructing classics on his haute cuisine menu."
It has been described as "a Boston, MA landmark famous for seafood and other New England specialties…linked with upscale cuisine."
Jasper's closed in 1995. (He closed so he could spend time with his children)
For three years afterwards, he was a consultant to Legal Seafoods.
He opened Jasper White's “Summer Shack” in May 2000 in the Alewife section of Cambridge.
The restaurant now has locations at Mohegan Sun, Boston's Back Bay.
There is a seasonal location on Spectacle Island in the Boston Harbor.
The Summer Shack allowed him to "return to his culinary true love of hearty family-style cuisine: authentic and flavorful–not fussy (and) embrace his unpretentious roots."
Even though it is meant to be like a seaside clam shack, one gourmet dish from Jasper's is on the menu and it is the one for which he is most famous - pan roasted lobster.
Thank you, Wikipedia
“Ratatouille” is a 2007 American computer-animated comedy film produced by Pixar and released by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
It is the eighth film produced by Pixar and was co-written and directed by Brad Bird, who took over from Jan Pinkava in 2005.
The title refers to a French dish, "ratatouille", which is served at the end of the film and is also a play on words about the species of the main character.
The film stars the voices of Patton Oswalt as Remy, an anthropomorphic rat who is interested in cooking; Lou Romano as Linguini, a young garbage boy who befriends Remy; Ian Holm as Skinner, the head chef of Auguste Gusteau's restaurant; Janeane Garofalo as Colette, a rôtisseur at Gusteau's restaurant; Peter O'Toole as Anton Ego, a restaurant critic; Brian Dennehy as Django, Remy's father and leader of his clan; Peter Sohn as Emile, Remy's older brother; and Brad Garrett as Auguste Gusteau, a recently deceased chef.
The plot follows a rat named Remy, who dreams of becoming a chef and tries to achieve his goal by forming an alliance with a Parisian restaurant's garbage boy.
Development of Ratatouille began in 2000 when Pinkava wrote the original concepts of the film. In 2005, Bird was approached to direct the film and revise the story.
Bird and some of the film's crew members also visited Paris for inspiration.
To create the food animation used in the film, the crew consulted chefs from both France and the United States.
Bird also interned at Thomas Keller's The French Laundry restaurant, where Keller developed the confit byaldi, a dish used in the film.
Ratatouille premiered on June 22, 2007, at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, California, with its general release June 29, 2007, in the United States. The film grossed $620.7 million at the box office and received critical acclaim. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and was later voted one of the 100 greatest motion pictures of the 21st century by a 2016 poll of international critics conducted by BBC.
Thank you, Wikipedia
A mushroom, or toadstool, is the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus, typically produced above ground on soil or on its food source.
The standard for the name "mushroom" is the cultivated white button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus; hence the word "mushroom" is most often applied to those fungi (Basidiomycota, Agaricomycetes) that have a stem (stipe), a cap (pileus), and gills (lamellae, sing. lamella) on the underside of the cap.
"Mushroom" also describes a variety of other gilled fungi, with or without stems, therefore the term is used to describe the fleshy fruiting bodies of some Ascomycota.
These gills produce microscopic spores that help the fungus spread across the ground or its occupant surface.
Forms deviating from the standard morphology usually have more specific names, such as "bolete", "puffball", "stinkhorn", and "morel", and gilled mushrooms themselves are often called "agarics" in reference to their similarity to Agaricus or their order Agaricales.
By extension, the term "mushroom" can also designate the entire fungus when in culture; the thallus (called a mycelium) of species forming the fruiting bodies called mushrooms; or the species itself.
Thank you, Wikipedia.
Four of our adventures with mushrooms
The first is contained in several pages from my published book illustrating incidents from my life in Boston’s North End in the 1950s and beyond, as a young boy, a teenager, and restaurateur: "Dom’s, an Odyssey" or Why did it take 6,000,000 Italians 100 years to assimilate into American Mainstream?
We’re in my restaurant, Dom’s, just a couple of hours before a huge party for the rock group “Boston,” on the night of their return from a triumphal year-long tour where they started out as a warm-up band and returned as superstars.
My chef-friend interrupting a dinner party I was enjoying with other friends.
“Sorry to bother you. I just want to review the numbers. We’re preparing dinner for 24 and appetizers for 225.”
“Exactly. What do you have for appetizers for the drinkers?”
“Crostini, croustades, baby lamb chops with rosemary, garlic and oil, shrimp toast with ground ginger and scallions, mushroom puffs... Oh, we don’t have wild mushrooms; only farm-grown. Is Ben coming tonight?”
As if on cue, Ben Maleson came through the door carrying his signature flat straw-basket crowded with mounds of wild mushrooms; his wife, Mai Jing, directly behind him, smiling, as always.
“Perfect!” said Frankie when he saw him and, reassured, he returned to the kitchen to organize the crew around the wild mushrooms. Ben, Mai Jing and I walked to each other and exchanged ‘hellos.’
Ben was a sympathetic and likeable person despite his disconcerting appearance. He had an attractive, sad smile that lit up when he spoke about mushrooms or Mai-Jing. Much of Ben’s body had been disfigured since his youth from a fire in his parents’ South End townhouse in which he was the unfortunate victim. He hid his disfigurement as well as he could by staying fully clothed, including gloves with their fingers cut to permit his own digits the freedom he needed to work. Except for his fingers, only his face was exposed to public scrutiny, even on the hottest summer nights. His appearance reminded me of Clive Revill’s Fagin. His kind and gentle demeanor anything but.
Without much ado I jumped directly to the issue at hand.
"Ben, We need an extra four pounds for an important customer who booked a large party at the last minute. I called you but I’m sure you didn’t check your messages.” Ben sucked in.
"Wow! I promised the Chef at Maitre Jacques I would deliver him some product tonight. He's a new customer. And all I have left are the four pounds for him. Plus yours, of course."
"Ben, just call him and tell him a story. The dog ate them; it rained; tomorrow’s harvest will be the best! Make him salivate. Meanwhile, take the mushrooms I need into the kitchen. Frankie’s waiting.”
While his hesitancy was annoying, ultimately, Ben couldn't deny me. I had been his first important customer - on board with him from the moment he walked into Dom’s on a cold call.
“I’m Ben Maleson, a mycologist. I’m setting up a business to supply better restaurants with wild mushrooms, continuously throughout the year. I’ll be going to other restaurants but if you sign on, I can use your name as a reference and others will sign on. I’ll always make sure you have a good supply.”
I not only signed on but I even helped him price his mushrooms, convincing him to move from his first, tentative $11.00 a pound to a robust and firm $15.00 per pound. Despite the cost of his product, his business soon grew so that he rarely had leftovers. Whenever he did have too many mushrooms, I always bailed him out, buying whatever excess he had. I found a way to use them. I believe in protecting such a rare resource as Ben’s supply of fresh, wild, native mushrooms. But no way tonight, when I needed reciprocity, was he going to leave Dom’s with any mushrooms in his car destined for another restaurant.
His gorgeous Korean wife, Mai-Jing, was very much his business partner, too, and she understood the help they got when they began. Add to this that she liked the way Ben was treated here, I wasn’t surprised to see her looking at Ben, smiling and nodding approvingly.
"Okay,” he said, his handsome, disfigured Jewish face exaggerating his resignation. “I'll bring them in." I didn’t thank him.
“Take them into the kitchen for Frankie. They're for the filling in a puff pastry appetizer. Get Mai-Jing and yourself something to eat and give me about 15 minutes. We’re finishing a story and then you and I will do our sidewalk act.”
Ben was off. He would relax in the kitchen discussing the cleaning and preparation of his harvest with Frankie. Frankie will listen with one ear, prepare nice plates for Ben and Mai Jing and direct the busy kitchen. Tonight I will miss eavesdropping on their earnest, amusing and respectful, if disjointed, conversation. By the time Ben and Mai-Jing were refreshed I’d be ready to again break away from my table for a few moments.
(And in fifteen minutes)
Ben’s emergence from the kitchen signaled the start of our mushroom act. I joined him.
Ben loved his mushrooms so well that you had to spend time listening to his spiel or hurt his feelings. From the first time I watched Ben as he showed me his ‘harvest’ and his face lit up, I recognized that his art and enthusiasm created a natural presentation brilliantly appropriate for all of Dom’s many different audiences.
I asked Ben if he would share his experiences with my customers and he jumped at the chance to have a share of the limelight. So a tradition was born. On the twice-weekly occasions that Ben arrived at the restaurant with his beautifully arrayed basket, we walked the basket through the dining rooms in tandem, sharing the drama with our honored guests.
“Okay, my friend,” I spoke to Ben, “Let’s start our sidewalk act right here with my friends.” For the sake of expediency we needed to simultaneously engage all three tables in the Small Room.
“Friends,” I said out loud. “Permit me to interrupt your dinner for a quick gastronomic presentation by my friend and famous mycologist, Ben Maleson, who has brought us some wonderful, wild mushrooms which we are offering to you as a separate course for your dinner tonight.” Having successfully gained the focus of my friends and clients, I stepped behind Ben who, proudly displaying his basket of mushrooms, went into his routine.
“These are Chicken-of-the-Woods, and these, black trumpets, a very choice, flavorful mushroom. These are lion’s mane with a flavor like lobster and crab. We have pom-poms, several morels and white chanterelles. The chanterelles weren’t around two days ago but I knew that conditions were right for them and I should check it out in 24 hours.
“When I got to the area, several people were walking nearby so I had to wait a while for them to leave: I didn’t want them to see my spot. Finally they left and when I got to the spot, voila! They had arrived! And here they are for you!
“These are Japanese mushrooms called shimeji; they're very tasty, with a peppery flavor. Porcini have a full flavor and a meaty texture. These caps are very large, the best size, if you can find them. Finally, we have the beautiful funnel chanterelles.”
One of the Fidelity Investments group asked, “How will you prepare them?” I answered.
“Simply. Local fresh cream, French brandy, Irish butter, sea salt, pepper and fresh, finely-chopped Italian parsley.”
“How big is the portion?”
“That’ll depend on how many people in the restaurant want some. I’ll make sure everyone gets a fair share.”
“How much is a portion?’
“Look at line number 92 on your next prospectus. It’ll show up there,” I quipped. The group laughed in unison. A silly question deserved flippancy. What did the cost matter on their expense accounts?
I remember a restaurant in Florence and our first experience with the Italian white truffle.
Expensive. The staff took a scale out with the truffle and weighed the truffle.
The fettucine with cream sauce was rushed to our table
Amazing. The waiter sliced the truffle over the pasta.
At the first slice, an explosion of aromas penetrated the entire dining room, causing every diner to look for the source.
They weighed the truffle again and we were billed for the amount used on our plates.
As a family, for a season we joined a local mycology club, going out once a week to harvest wild mushrooms.
We had experts leading us and learned a lot, all of which is now forgotten.
What I remember most about that time was the style.
The club members spread out along a fairly straight line and walked forward together, calmly and politely.
Calling out their discoveries, collecting the others around to examine their finds. Passing congratulations on the handful.
Not so my sons who acknowledged no such constraints.
Little wild piglets they, in search of the fungi, roaming far and wide away from the pack.
And ridiculously successful.
“Mushrooms!” they would yell as they gathered what seemed like basketsful to the rest of us.
They harvesting, they keeping.
At first the others fought to keep their civilized approach, of course, excepting Toni-Lee and I, who habitually came when called by our sons.
But before that first day ended, the presence of our sons changed the way the group harvested.
For a last memorable mushroom anecdote, I mention the arrival of Julia and Paul at lunchtime without a reservation.
Not a problem.
And then the gods stepped in, sending Ben and Mai-Jing back from the woods with their glorious straw tray.
Of course I directed Ben to Julia’s table.
She made an encouraging remark. I should make one up. But she’s too iconic for a fictionalization, so the literal truth, and nothing but the literal truth: her remarks were generous, kind, and supportive.