There’s still much to be learned about edible mushrooms. Nowadays, specialized traders can offer 70 varieties of cultivated and wild mushroom varieties throughout the year. Market demand is, however, limited to only a few kinds.
For Leon van Basten, telling end-users and interested parties - chefs, rising stars, food lovers, and the media - about these products is a calling. He calls it Helping Discovery. Leon is the Belgian company, Funghi Funghi’s, Communication and Gastronomic Advisor.
“I believe unknown means unloved,” says Leon. “During a workshop or presentation, I often ask the kitchen brigade how many kinds of mushrooms they know. They usually can’t name more than ten, at most. That’s sometimes even the case with star chefs. I’ve worked in famous chefs’ kitchens.”
“I know how driven they are to continually find novelties and usual ingredients. It’s inconceivable that there’s still so much to discover when it comes to edible mushrooms. There’s such a rich sensory array of colors, flavors, aromas, shapes, and textures.”
“Here at Funghi Funghi, we employ all kinds of methods to help chefs discover these. We use weekly newsletters, social media, video clips, trade shows, and more. But live communication channels are more effective, educational, and fun. I regularly hold workshops onsite at the company,” Leon says.
“These are for other kitchen brigades, cooking clubs, regional students, and Cas Spijkers Academie (a Dutch culinary school). These always include an hour-long interactive presentation. Most participants discover a new mushroom world. That’s done mostly by cooking together, demos, and tastings. I sometimes combine this with field trips. We visit growers or the forest.”
“We sometimes even take gastronomic trips to, for example, overseas truffle hunters. The coronavirus has made it tougher to present these workshops. I’ve had to make the necessary adjustments. I hope we’ll soon be able to inspire full kitchens in this familiar manner again,” Van Basten adds.
“I don’t think this approach gets more mushrooms sold. That’s not the goal either. The starting point is to get the gastronomic world to discover more kinds of mushrooms. These can inspire menus, making them extraordinary.”
When asked which is his favorite, Leon has to consider his answer carefully. “It’s a difficult choice. Each mushroom is special. I love seeing the amazed look on students’ faces when they discover that ‘Chicken of the woods’, indeed, tastes like chicken. It has the structure of a chicken breast. Then, I’ve truly helped them a little.”
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Leon van Basten