Mushrooms are mushrooming on foodservice menus, from the braised black angus short ribs with pioppini by chef Daniel Boulud in New York to the recent bacon-portabella melt burger promotion at Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy’s chain.
“Restaurants are back to pre-recession volumes,” said Joe Caldwell, vice president of Watsonville, Calif.-based Monterey Mushrooms, “and we see mushrooms mentioned on menus a lot more than before.”
Caldwell said he’s spoken to a number of restaurant chains about developing recipes for menu items that will appear in a year or two.
Kathleen Preis, marketing coordinator for San Jose-based Mushroom Council, said one in four diners are now looking for vegetarian options, and they won’t frequent a restaurant that doesn’t offer great taste and variety.
Earl’s Kitchen + Bar favorites
Vancouver, British Columbia-based Earl’s Kitchen + Bar, which is expanding its U.S. presence to Miami and Boston this year, slips mushrooms into no fewer than five dishes, including the best-selling chicken and field mushroom fettuccine; a roasted portobellini sandwich and mushroom-barley risotto (both meatless); and a porcini-crusted tenderloin steak with truffle chive butter.
“Mushrooms give us the opportunity to use regional ingredients, add great rustic flavors to our dishes and, of course, create wonderful vegetarian options for our guests,” said Earl’s regional chef Phil Gallaher.
“When we select one of the more unique mushrooms, it sometimes leads to our distributors listing or growing a product specifically for us,” Gallaher said.
Though many guests only know the standard button mushroom, he said they’re curious about criminis and oysters and are eager to try new varieties.
Make chefs look good
Bob Engel, chef liaison for Sebastopol, Calif.-based organic specialty grower Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., said mushrooms make chefs look good.
“Chefs love the eye appeal, flavor, texture and umami component,but many aren’t aware of all the specialty mushrooms available, partly because their supply is so limited,” Engel said.
Bad weather last year in some parts of the country last year restricted the supply of wild mushrooms, particularly morels, and Engel said chefs are looking more and more to cultivated exotic varieties to fill the gap.
Rick Watters, manager of operations for Aldergrove, British Columbia-based Champ’s Mushrooms, sees a strong trend toward wild mushrooms, which meet the demand for local on the West Coast.
“Golden chanterelles sell like crazy when they’re in season,” said Watters, who works with several wild mushroom suppliers. “And they’re now making their way to retail shelves.”