Every year, discovery is the core theme of Eagle’s mushroom festival — everything hinges on what the foragers find in the forest.
“That’s the fun of it, you never know what might be around the next bend,” said Katrina Blair, an expert on wild edibles who is joining mushroom expert Larry Evans to lead this year’s foray.
Now in its sixth year, what started as a simple, educational mushroom hunt has grown into the Eagle Wild Mushroom & Wine Weekend.
The weekend kicks off with Mushroom, Merlot and Mingling at Paradigms Restaurant in Eagle from 6 to 9 p.m. today and continues with more events through Sunday. (See info box for more details and a complete schedule.)
“We are building on the food element this year,” said Jen Radueg, events director for Always Mountain Time, which is organizing the weekend activities.
“This year, we took over the event from Tom Boni, and we would like it to be a real foodie fest, involving as many restaurants and businesses as possible,” Radueg said.
Tom Boni, Eagle town planner, brought Evans to town six years ago to lead an educational foray. Boni is still involved, but he said the event has grown so much that it was time for a professional to take charge of the organization.
Adding new flavors
Similar to previous years, Paradigms Restaurant will host the opening party Friday evening. The next two days will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Brush Creek Pavilion with presentations and films by the experts before attendees scatter into the woods around Eagle to see what they can find.
From 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, anyone can participate in the forage for wild mushrooms and other edibles. Registered participants will return to the Brush Creek Pavilion in Eagle between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. to sort and identify the day’s bounty.
Blair’s expertise on wild edibles brings a new aspect to the foray this year. Foragers will search for other edibles in addition to morsels of delectable fungus. (See sidebar for more about Blair’s wild diet.)
Whatever the foragers manage to find will be prepared into a three-course wine-pairing dinner at the Brush Creek Pavilion by executive chefs from Adam’s Rib Country Club and Old Kentucky Tavern, with help from Blair and others. The feast is $75 per person for those who aren’t already registered, and it begins with a tasting at 6 p.m. followed by dinner at 7 p.m.
Paradigms Restaurant is offering a separate three-course mushroom-themed dinner as well on Saturday for $25 each.
“This is the first time we’ve done one big dinner with everyone on Saturday night,” Boni said.
While Saturday is all about the wine supplied by Veraison Distributing, Sunday evening concludes with a pairing of mushroom dishes and locally brewed beer from Bonfire Brewing. The Buttons & Bonfire tasting wraps up the weekend from 4 to 8 p.m.
In spite of all the careful planning going into every detail for the event, it all depends on one variable aspect — what will the foragers find?
It is a challenge for the chefs to plan a feast of which the exact ingredients and quantities are unknown until the final hour.
“For a wild edibles salad, I think we’ll probably find some bluebell flowers, dandelion greens of course, some gooseberries and maybe some wild strawberries or raspberries, but I don’t know,” Blair said.
Adam’s Rib executive chef Michael Connolly said he’s sure there will be watercress and service berries.
“I’ve seen a lot of that stuff around this year,” he said.
Aside from that, Connolly is feeling the pressure of preparing gourmet food for a large group of people and not knowing precisely what he will have to work with.
“I’m going to get as much in order as I can this week,” he said. “Waiting to see what comes in is the fun and creativity of it, but this is for a lot of people and I want it to go well.”
Bob Cohen, owner of Veraison Distributing, is anxiously awaiting some indicators that will help him select wines for the dinner.
“I will discuss it closely with the chefs and others in the company,” he said. “We’ll try to match things up and it will be a fun exercise. If you have a delicate food element and a big, bold wine, you won’t taste the food and the inverse is also true.”
Cohen said this is his first year participating.
“It’s a unique event, and I hope it keeps going,” he said. “Instead of ‘farm to table,’ it’s backcountry to table.”
Boni said education has always been at the root of the event.
“If you’ve been coming to this for six years, you’re getting to be a pretty good forager,” he said. “We can’t guarantee you’re going to find anything — that’s the nature of mushrooms — but you’ll learn a lot.”