A foodie event grows out of one man's passion for mushrooms.
CRESTED BUTTE, COLO. (Fortune Small Business) -- Armed with a Swiss army knife and a dozen paper bags, Roger Kahn is preparing to lead a mushroom hunt into the woods surrounding the small mountain town of Crested Butte. His foraging party, assembling at the Community School, consists of about 30 of the 250 attendees at the Crested Butte Wild Mushroom Festival, which Kahn organizes every year.
Dozens of edible varieties grow in these forests, and Kahn teaches foragers to recognize their telltale signs.
"If I'm hunting chanterelles, I look for an open area amid dense, tall evergreens," he says. While other mycologists sling Latin names with abandon, Kahn keeps his fungus lore grounded: "I want to know how to harvest mushrooms, how to cook them, eat them, and preserve them."
Kahn describes the common boletus as "the one that looks like a hamburger bun." On local puffballs: "I slice the giant ones and use them instead of pasta in a lasagna." Another favorite recipe: candied chanterelles, served with homemade vanilla ice cream.
Kahn, who won't reveal his age, was not always a mushroom zealot. He once taught nonprofit organization and leadership at Regis University in Denver. In the mid-1990s he launched a successful storage business called Storage One, opening facilities in Crested Butte and later expanding to other rural and mountain towns.
He took over running the fungus festival in 2000, with local restaurateur and fellow mushroom lover Mac Bailey.
"I see the festival as a tribute to the old-timers who shared their knowledge with me," says Kahn, referring to members of Crested Butte's long-established Croatian community, who taught him to hunt mushrooms when he first moved there in the early 1970s.
The weeklong festival kicks off during picking season in mid-August. Sellout events include luncheons and cooking demonstrations at local restaurants. Like mothers trying to trick their kids into eating vegetables, the chefs sneak mushrooms into places you'd never suspect: delicious grilled shrimp rubbed with powdered shiitakes, a seaweed salad topped with creamy white slices of puffballs that mimic goat cheese, and - most amazing - a funnel cake with a glaze containing diced morels.
Check out Roger's favourite mushroom dishes in our gallery of photos and recipes.
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