One mushroom lover to another
For $200 a person, the Four Seasons Resort Vail is sending out guided expeditions in luxury SUVs to look for mushrooms. The Mushrooms & Mercedes program includes a lunchtime break with wine, cheese and prosciutto, and ends with a three-course mushroom-themed meal back at the hotel.
The resort offered 40 spots on its mushroom expeditions this year, with remaining hunts on Sunday and Aug. 24. Nearly every spot has sold. At the first session, participants gathered at 10 a.m. in the back of the hotel’s Flame restaurant for coffee and pastries. They chatted up guide Larry Evans, a tall, tan former University of Montana mycology professor and examined the multitude of mushroom shapes he had collected the day before.
After Evans gave a short, lively presentation on what they might find, the group set out in two Mercedes SUVs for Shrine Pass off Interstate 70. Each hunter was sent out with a basket holding a mushroom-cutting knife, energy bar, apple, water and whistle to blow for help. The SUV drivers brought sunscreen and umbrellas for shade.
Evans advised foragers to check near trees and dips in the soil, where squirrels might have smelled truffles, and to grab anything resembling a mushroom.
The group scattered into the lodgepole pines in 58-degree temperatures, some eager, some anxious. An hour later, while sipping wine, snacking and sitting in camp chairs the Four Season staff brought, the group reconvened to examine the dozens of mushrooms they had collected.
There were round puffballs, a scaly hawkwing, and some lactarius mushrooms that are milky when cut. Evans pointed out one that he suspected was from the Amanita family, with warts on its cap, an edge like a pleated skirt, and gills underneath the cap that didn’t touch the stem. It was poisonous.
Later in the hotel’s kitchen, Executive Chef Jason Harrison’s staff demonstrated how to clean mushrooms and cooked two types that Evans deemed edible from the foragers’ collection. One white mushroom that grows in clumps tasted like asparagus. A large, brown cap of another had an earthier taste, the group decided.
The hotel staff poured more wine.
Then before the Flame restaurant opened for dinner, Harrison seated the adventurers for a mushroom and arugula salad with ice wine vinaigrette and chicken chasseur (also known as hunter’s chicken, with a mushroom-based sauce) atop sweet corn. A dessert of chocolate and macaroons followed.