Hunting for Mushrooms was Wild on the Santa Lucia Preserve in Carmel, California!

Relais & Chateaux celebrated its 60th Anniversary by hosting a Gourmet Fest in Carmel, California where their chefs and vintners from around the world joined forces to share their love of food and wine with the public. The event was the brainchild of Carmel’s David Fink – hotelier, entrepreneur, winemaker and mushroom hunter.

Phil Carpenter with Witch's hat - Hygrocybe conica

Phil Carpenter with Witch’s hat – Hygrocybe conica

As part of the festivities, Fink organized a wild mushroom hunt in the 20,000 acre Santa Lucia Preserve in Carmel. He brought in former Point Lobos Ranger, Chuck Bancroft, to head up a team of mycologists to lead 30 lucky guests through the preserve on the expedition. It was a perfect day for rummaging through the forest, a bit drizzly but relatively warm with bursts of sunshine peaking through the tall redwoods.

Chuck Bankcroft with The Artist's conk -  Ganoderma applanatum

Chuck Bankcroft with The Artist’s conk – Ganoderma applanatum

Bancroft brought in fellow mushroom enthusiast Phil Carpenter to assist him in keeping track of our group, and to help the hunters identify the genetic and biochemical properties of the fungi we came across on the trek. Phil is a 25 year member of the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz and enjoys helping novices learn the tricks of the trade.

Sulphur tuft - Hypholoma fasciculare

Sulphur tuft – Hypholoma fasciculare

Prior to the hunt, we were outfitted with rubber gloves to handle poisonous specimens. Bancroft and Carpenter made suggestions for a successful mushroom hunt:

  • wear comfortable, stable, waterproof shoes to keep you from injuring yourself or getting too wet while foraging
  • use a wicker basket to carry your fungi finds in, they can breathe in wicker verses plastic which makes them sweat and spoil quicker
  • carry a soft brush to wipe off the dirt without damaging the delicate caps
  • use a common garden tool to dig around the root
  • use wax paper bags to keep fungi separate from one another in the basket
  • keep a loud whistle on hand in case you get lost and need to summons help
  • always watch for the dreaded three leaf poison oak and wash your hands immediately after the hunt. Soothe infected areas with aloe or substitute and make sure upon your return you take off and wash your clothes so the ivy dust doesn’t infect you later.
  • perform a tick check upon your return
Mushroom hunter stopping to smell a local herb

Mushroom hunter stopping to smell a local herb

The enthusiasm with which my fellow hunters trekked through the forest and were keen to learn captivated me. I must admit, I wasn’t exactly an eager beaver to walk around in search of fungus, but once I became educated about the varieties of mushrooms, saw the beautiful colors, shapes and details of the fungi, I was hooked.  It was an incredible journey filled with wonder and excitement and I found myself regretting that it was over so quickly.

While we did not find any edible examples on our wild mushroom hunt, we found a glorious selection of fungi that were beautiful and very interesting to look at and were able to smell and taste other natural plants growing wild in the preserve.

Carlton Lepine's candy cap sticky toffee pudding with crème fraîche ice cream and toffee sauce

Carlton Lepine’s candy cap sticky toffee pudding with crème fraîche ice cream and toffee sauce. The edible flowers were from the Preserve!

Afterwards, our private group sat down to a delicious meal and creative dessert, each with edible mushrooms incorporated into the menu. The elegant and tasty lunch was hosted by the Santa Lucia Preserves’s  Chef Carlton Lepine, Relais & Châteaux Chefs Jacob Leatherman of Triple Creek Ranch and  Eric Bauer of Rancho Valencia with wines by Gary Pisoni of Pisoni Vineyards and Jack Galante of Galante Vineyards.

Thank you to the Relais & Châteaux group and David Fink for hosting me at this unique adventure in Carmel’s pristine Santa Lucia Preserve.

View from the living room of the clubhouse at the preserve

View from the living room of the clubhouse at the preserve

 All photos are the property of Priscilla Pilon. Must obtain permission before use