Mushrooms are an incredibly versatile vegetable. Their earthy, nutty flavor can enhance salads, soups, sides or even main dishes. You can toss oyster mushrooms into a steamy Egg Drop Soup. Skewer portabella mushrooms and glaze with a balsamic garlic sauce on the grill.
Sauté more traditional button mushrooms with fresh herbs to create a creamy garlic parmesan dish. Or brown maitake and chanterelle mushrooms in a skillet and add to a grain salad for a quick, healthy lunch.
Seven-time nominee for the James Beard Foundation award for best chef in the Northeast Eric Warnstedt has such an affection for mushrooms that he named his restaurant Hen of the Wood. “We wanted a name that would represent something wild, a natural food and that industry folks would understand,” Warnstedt said of coming up with the name for his original Waterbury, Vermont location. When Warnstedt and business partner William McNeil opened their first restaurant they intended to source as many ingredients locally as possible, including working with foragers for fresh, wild mushrooms. Warnstedt says he first realized that using foragers would be the right choice for his restaurants when working as a chef at the Inn at Shelburne Farms. “I still remember vividly to this day, when I was in the kitchen and a guy walked in the back door with a bunch of wild mushrooms to sell to the Inn. I thought right then, this is it, this represents everything that is right and possible when building a local food system.”
One mainstay on their constantly changing menu is the Hen of the Woods Mushroom Toast. This simple dish allows Warnstedt’s team to showcase local offerings as well as house-made ingredients. Local bread, locally foraged mushrooms, local eggs, and house-cured bacon in this dish represent the rustic style that Hen of the Wood food has become known for. “Maitake or hen of the wood mushrooms, freeze and dry really well allowing us to keep this item on the menu year- round," said Warnstedt. “When fall hits, and the foragers start showing up at the door, we buy as many mushrooms as we can afford.”
Another mushroom that provokes Warnstedt’s romanticism of mushrooms is the chanterelle “There’s nothing I love more than when chanterelles and local sweet corn cross over seasonally.” Warnstedt says he tops any dish he can from fish to chicken with this flavorful combination.
Mushrooms were most likely cultivated in Asia first but then introduced in Europe in the 17th century. They are traditionally used in French-inspired dishes but the versatility and array of mushroom varieties creates endless options. Warnstedt says he has been intoxicated with this wild fungus from his early days of cooking and looks forward to the first knock on the door this fall when the mushroom bounty begins.