Where the Wild Foods Are

In Big Sur, a forest of mushrooms awaits to be eaten.

You could order a mushroom risotto at a restaurant, and then dig into the dish. Or you could be more adventurous, and hunt for delicious chanterelles, umbrella-like candy caps, and honeycomb morels. After a big rain, these little puppies will be sprouting within the wilds of Central California in record numbers, and to celebrate is the Big Sur Foragers Festival, held January 16th-18th. While many mushroom hunters are known to keep their sacred spots secret, guided hikes by resident-naturalist Stephen Copeland may spill (some of) the dirt.

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It’s not wise for anyone to go about this alone unless you can recite—in your sleep—Field Guide to Mushrooms of Western North America. Luckily, top chefs are there to filter the good from the bad and prepare them in ingenious ways. The event’s “Fungus Face-Off” on Saturday gives diners a bite of the inventions. Although esteemed chefs are pitted against each other, “it’s a friendly competition,” says executive director Sharen Carey. Headlining chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski will be cooking in the kitchen at Ventana Inn & Spa. For those who know how notoriously elusive a reservation is at their San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions, this is your chance to score a seat at their table.

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You can also broaden your foraged food pyramid with coastal finds, like sea lettuce, kelp, and tidal-pool salt, along with the forest’s miner’s lettuce and nettles.

Also on the agenda is a master class on how to cook foraged foods and a brunch with live music and wine pairings. Next time you’re in the forest, you’ll know what pairs witha Pinot. Proceeds from the festival are donated to the Big Sur Medical Center.

 

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