Fungophiles Rejoice

The best mushroom meal ever? Top Houston chef tempts diners with a surprise fungi homage

The best mushroom meal ever? Top Houston chef tempts diners with fungi

Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Molecular gastronomist German Mosquera, executive chef at Restaurant Cinq inside La Colombe d'Or, concocted a five-course tasting menu that roused interest for the Telluride Mushroom Festival. Photo by Joel Luks
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013 chef German Mosquera and Audrey Marnoy
Chef German Mosquera and Audrey Marnoy in the kitchen of Restaurant Cinq. Photo by Joel Luks
Telluride Mushroom Festival 2013 Shroomfest poster
The Telluride Mushroom Festival is held from Aug. 15 to 18. Shroomfest.com
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Crispy oyster mushroom and Petrossian osetra caviar. Photo by Joel Luks
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Portobello skin radish salad. Photo by Joel Luks
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Crimini mushroom soda. Photo by Joel Luks
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Wild porcini mushroom brioche with surryano ham. Photo by Joel Luks
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Yukon potato baked in button mushrooms perched atop a seafood-less crab cake. Photo by Joel Luks
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Oregon white truffled truffle. Photo by Joel Luks
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013 chef German Mosquera and Audrey Marnoy
Telluride Mushroom Festival 2013 Shroomfest poster
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013
Mushroom dinner at Cinq Houston June 2013

Things you didn't know about mushrooms: The fungi can clean up oil spills and nuclear meltdowns, they are fantastic as building insulation and, like humans, mushrooms have the capacity to convert ultraviolet light into vitamin D even after being harvested from the ground. It's often said that without mushrooms, which fungophiles describe as connectors between living organisms and deceased or decaying matter, forested ecosystems would wane into nothingness.

The world's biggest living organism is a mushroom, discovered by scientist Catherine Parks in the Malheur National Forest located in eastern Oregon, and covers an area equal to 1,665 football fields.

Yet beyond a growing list of scientific properties, there's a metaphysical, ancient mystique that's mused by their psychedelic, hallucinogenic, healing and entheogenic, chlorophyll-free psyche — surely the reason why the Smurfs dwelled amid a colony of red-roofed homes.

Armed with fascinating tidbits to stupefy toadstool neophytes, Telluride Institute board member Audrey Marnoy is on a mission to sweet-talk Houstonians that sojourn to Colorado for the summer to participate in the activities of this year's Telluride Mushroom Festival — a four-day fungal binge teeming with presentations, lectures, forays, performances, discussions, panels, workshops, film screenings, food events and even a Halloween-esque parade — held from August 15 to 18.

Ladies and gentlemen, mushrooms can save the world, evident from the festival's poster in which an omnipotent mushroom etched with cryptic, Aztec-looking emblems appears to land on the quaint mountain town's main street from the heavens.

Believe what you want, but know there's little doubt in this taster's mind that his cookery is akin to a religious experience. 

A tad of X-Files? Perhaps. As they say, the truth is out there.

If you are inclined to make comparisons between the movement to legalize marijuana and die-hard believers of mushrooms, you would be correct to do so. Yet Marnoy says that the festival reaches over the seemingly hippie tenor to serve as an advocate for more possible applications of mushrooms, such as in bioremediation.

The festival includes notable guests such as keynote speaker Gary Lincoff, The Fungal Pharmacy author Robert Dale Rodgers and mycologist Lawrence Millman

What better way to rouse interest for Shroomfest 2013, themed "Fungi as Medicine," than through cuisine. Marnoy enlisted the help of molecular gastronomist German Mosquera, executive chef at Restaurant Cinq inside La Colombe d'Or, to concoct a five-course tasting menu with pairings that lauded mushrooms as a versatile ingredient suitable for sweet and savory dishes and beverages.

On the menu

Mosquera's crispy oyster mushroom and Petrossian osetra caviar whimsically played with textures implied by the latter ingredient. Tomato seeds, aka tomato caviar, nestled in between the gills offered a sweet glaze that balanced the saltiness of the fish roe, also echoing the light bubbles of a Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple Wheat, a brew that's in-between Belgian wheat beer and sweet cider.

If there was one dish that typified Mosquera's approach, it was the portobello skin radish salad accompanied by a crimini mushroom soda, which was foaming with notes of ginger, turmeric and tamarind syrup. In the salad, crispy lotus chips were the unifying element between the thinly sliced radishes, the meaty mainstay and the acidity of a pickled slaw.

The elegant presentation of the wild porcini mushroom brioche with surryano ham hid the brawny quality of the third course. Call this a meat-and-potatoes translation, one that filled bellies with down home goodness.

Mosquera's version of a seafood-less crab cake ticked the creative fancy of diners, who wondered how the chef achieved such an exact replica. He did so with leaks, elephant garlic, almond flour and coconut cream to form patties that cradled a Yukon potato cooked in the juice of button mushrooms.

Mushrooms for dessert? The Oregon white truffle's mellowness unfolded from the inclusion of honeycomb, a contrast to the dark Guinness served with the finale.

Mosquera's cuisine was no science fiction. Believe what you want about the festival, but know there's little doubt in this taster's mind that his cookery is akin to a religious experience.

Beam me up.