Fascinated by Fungi with Dr. Fun Guy
Did you know that mushrooms are technically not plants? I certainly didn’t before I attended Sips and Bites: Fascinated by Fungi at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science featuring Dr. Gordon Walker, UC Davis alumnus and fungi expert extraordinaire.
On January 25, Dr. Gordon Walker engaged the audience with a colorful lesson on “Mushrooms 101.” Asserting that fungi are a “keystone species that are critically important for the sustainability and continued success of terrestrial ecosystems,” Dr. Walker enlightened the audience about the multitude of ways fungi are present in humanity’s daily lives, not only as a key ingredient of delicious dishes like truffle risotto but also in terms of the fundamental health of our gut and skin microbiomes.
Dr. Walker noted the diversity of mushrooms, including those that are toxic, edible, richly colorful, textured, aromatic, UV reactive, or even bioluminescent. Their diversity can also be seen in the plethora of places fungi grow: the ground, on wood, on other mushrooms, on insects, in extreme climates from frigid to tropical to desert locales, and even underwater. Amazingly, over 15,000 mushroom species are currently known, with an estimated 40,000 specimens in existence. For fungi, the numbers are even more wowing: 150,000 species of fungi have been documented, but there is an estimated 11 million in existence!
After a dynamic lecture on all things mushrooms and fungi, it was time for the audience to taste edible mushrooms in carefully crafted bites. Mycopia Mushrooms, a local and organic specialty mushroom grower, provided the mushrooms and featured varieties I had never had the opportunity to try before. A citrusy ceviche highlighted beech mushrooms, and maitake were featured on crostini topped with parmesan and greens. Meanwhile, king trumpets reigned a risotto coupled with dates and pistachios. The audience members devoured the dishes, and I went back for seconds!
Since the event, I have noticed myself taking an increased interest in the mushrooms I spot on afternoon walks and reaching for mushrooms I have never cooked with from grocery store shelves. Dr. Gordon Walker’s fascination with fungi is undoubtedly contagious. If you missed the event, I highly recommend perusing his website, podcast, or social media accounts or grabbing a pack of Mycopia Mushrooms to cook with at home!
Kendal Koorenny is a current master’s student in the viticulture and enology program at UC Davis. She adores food, wine, and science and writing about it all! When she is not in class or working, you can find Kendal reading a book, crafting a new cocktail recipe, or spending time with her kitten.