It all started when he was strolling the grounds at Collegiate in Richmond, where he used to work. It was a beautiful fall day, and when walking through the forest, he came upon outlandish mushroom formations.
Much like someone's disbelief at the variety of sea life when snorkeling or watching a nature documentary, Bryant Logan was shocked by all the colors and textures he saw. "I figured some of them had to be edible, so I got a book and used it as a reference," he explains.
We invited Bryant and his family over, and we dined under the shade of our grape vines as the sun set. In celebration of Bryant's love of mushrooms, my husband Robert made miso soup from scratch, featuring rare varieties. We served it alongside grilled Teriyaki pork chops (more exquisite than it sounds) with white rice, bok choy, and basil eggplant.
Bryant enjoys his own mushroom hauls, but also sells to Richmond restaurants such as Southbound, The Roosevelt and Dutch & Co.. The most profitable find was King Bolete mushrooms and a cluster of porcini the size of a muffuletta sandwich.
When he samples mushrooms he's never found before, he wants to get a true taste for it, and make sure it's safe. He samples a small amount sautéed with butter and salt.
He explains that the same type of mushroom growing in two places may not necessarily taste the same. "It depends on the soil," he says. "Soil can make mushrooms taste earthy, woody, even a meaty umami flavor. I found chantarelles that tasted just like bacon."
His craziest find was a mushroom called lion's mane. Here's a Google image. It's ghost white and spookily fringed, like a skirt belonging to Stevie Nicks. Because the fungi was so alien-like, he hesitated. "But when I took a bite, it tasted like fried chicken and hash browns," he said.
He laments that Richmond is quickly losing old-growth hardwood forests - the ideal environment for wild mushrooms. Forests are often razed, and if there is a replanting, developers opt for less-expensive pine, which doesn't foster fungi growth. He's fascinated by the species, even the inedible versions. "Mushrooms can communicate with one another via spores. They have a language and send one another warnings."
The best and pretty much only time you can forage for mushrooms in Virginia is in the late summer and early fall. Bryant recommends foraging after a good rain, followed by steamy, humid weather. "You only have a small window once this happens. In three or four days, the bugs will get to them." He also recommends buying a mushroom guide to bring along.