Dining Reviews

A Foray into Foraging

diningIndulge in a taste of the wild side at the second annual Big Sur Foragers Festival
Web extra: Chanterelle, Honey and Lavender Ice Cream recipe

Big Sur, with its world-famous beauty and rugged wilderness, is no stranger to disaster. In the words of Sharen Carey, locals know “it’s not a matter of if, but when” the next calamity will cause road closures or, worse, evacuations. Case in point: the recent Pfeiffer Fire, which ignited on Dec. 15 and consumed more than 900 acres in Big Sur’s Los Padres National Forest.

For Carey, executive director of the Big Sur Health Center, the blaze was yet another reminder of why her organization exists. As the only medical facility within the 100 miles between Carmel and Cambria, the health center provides a necessary service to people who choose to dwell in this extremely remote locale, as well as the more than four million visitors who flock there each year. 

“We have residents who live way up ridges and down canyons, and some who live as much as a couple of hours drive [from town],” says Carey, who spoke to GT in the days following the fire’s onset. “The presence of the health center is really critical to the well-being of the community.”

Fundraising is essential to keeping the center up and running, and the health center is gearing up for the second installment of what it hopes will become its signature fundraising event: The Big Sur Foragers Festival. The weekend kicks off Friday, Jan. 17 with a “Firestone and Fungus” dinner at Big Sur Roadhouse (where baked field peas, foraged winter greens and brisket are some of the menu items) and continues with a variety of delicious events throughout the weekend. Local wines and beer will also be featured.

The same wildness that makes Big Sur a bold place to live and an attractive place to visit lends its small-but-distinctive culinary scene a special, highly localized flavor. Inspired by the popularity of the now-defunct Big Sur Chanterelle Festival, organizers selected foraging as a focus for the festival as a way to highlight and celebrate that untamed spirit.

“It allows chefs to build upon the chanterelle theme but opens it up to all sorts of mushrooms and other foraged foods,” says Carey.

dining2Last year, Ripplewood Resort owner and former chef Carl Shadwell found himself with eight pounds of chanterelle mushrooms in the days leading up to the inaugural Foragers Festival. Together with other ingredients gleaned from his surroundings—including Meyer lemons, lavender and honey—he concocted a chanterelle ice cream that took home the prize for Most Unique Dish in the Fungus Face-Off.  

“It’s so hard to describe—it had a bit of a savory taste, but what you were getting was a lot of the vanilla, Meyer lemon and a hint of the lavender, and all of a sudden you’d crunch into the mushroom,” he says. (See gtweekly.com for the recipe.) Other winning dishes included an abalone porcini fritter with pickleweed and red dulse seaweed (Most Artistic Presentation) and matsutake braised beef ragout with roasted garlic, Mazuna, Carmel Valley Ranch salt, and shaved black truffles on crostini (People’s Award).

Shadwell will, once again, participate in the Fungus Face-Off, which will take place Saturday afternoon at Ventana Inn & Spa, but—save for a hint about rabbit—he was tightlipped about the recipe he has up his sleeve. The competition will be followed by a multi-course dinner featuring three guest chefs.

Although there will be no organized foraging events during the festival, participants can learn how to identify edible wild plants from expert foragers during the “Wild Mushroom Walk and Talk” on Saturday morning.

When he spoke to GT before the holidays, Shadwell noted that Big Sur had yet to see many mushrooms due to a lack of rain. And with Pfeiffer Ridge now scorched by the fire, the outlook for fungi is even more uncertain. But, Big Sur is accustomed to making do with what they have—and the festival promises to be a shining example of that character. 

“This community takes care of one another,” Carey told GT in December. “We’re in the middle of the fire, and everyone is coming together to support one another, figure out who needs what, [and] take care of their neighbor.”

In that vein, local chefs and businesses are donating their talents to the fundraiser, and organizers are hopeful that residents will turn up in high numbers. For Big Sur fans who live outside its borders, the festival is just one more good reason to pay a visit. 

The Big Sur Foragers Festival takes place Jan. 17-19 at various times and locations. Visit bigsurforagersfestival.org to learn more. Tickets are at eventbrite.com.

Chanterelle, Honey and Lavender Ice Cream By Carl Shadwell

Makes: 2 quarts
You will need an ice cream maker for this recipe. This savory ice cream works well as tablespoon sizes served with pate a choux or Lacey almond cookies.  

1 ¼ cup honey
2 sprigs lavender blossom
1 cup half and half
3 cups real whipping cream
12 egg yolks
2 vanilla beans
1 cup sugar
Zest of 4 Meyer lemons
3 lbs finely chopped chanterelles
1 tsp. finely chopped thyme

Blanch zest in boiling water for 2 minutes. Refresh. Chop in fine mince.
Combine half and half, cream, sugar, honey, lavender, vanilla bean. Bring to a simmer. Cool. Strain.
Sauté mushrooms in 2 tbsp. butter for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste (around a pinch of each). Add thyme. Cool.
Heat cream mixture to simmer in a non-corroding pot. In a bowl, whisk eggs, and add hot cream in small amounts. Return to pan on low heat, stirring constantly. When thick (when it coats the spoon), chill.
Add mushroom mix, lemon zest, and cream.
Turn into an ice cream maker and follow instructions. Freeze.

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