Mushrooms often take the place of beef, since they’re naturally earthy and meaty. But we’re not talking portobellos or shiitakes anymore. A one-of-a-kind business here is growing harder to find varieties, and thus, more appealing to chefs.
In the rarefied air of a 3-star Michelin restaurant like Smyth, in the West Loop, dessert has to be a showstopper. The kitchen sources exotic Chestnut mushrooms from a local supplier, as well as tiny enokis.
“The brown enoki mushroom – which they were planning on growing the same way – most enokis are long, thin, small cap,” said John Shields, the executive chef and owner of Smyth. “And I said, ‘well what if we kept letting them grow, and let the cap open up?’”
The result is a tart unlike anything you’ll see in a bakery.
“Sweet tart, with cream on the base – it’s the shell of it – with apples, candied. Pieces of mushroom, and then the raw caps are up, almost like they’re sprouting out of the tart,” said Shields.
The customized cultivation stems from Four Star Mushrooms – a small business operating out of a West Side warehouse that looks like a set from a science fiction film.
“I started this because I’m super passionate about sustainable agriculture,” said Joe Weber, the owner. “And mushrooms are a keystone component in building sustainable food systems.”
The Food Guy
The alien-looking fungi emerge from containers of upcycled substrate.
“All of our substrate is made with red oak sawdust and soybean hulls,” said Weber.
Managing the environment requires playing Mother Nature.
“So the variables we’re controlling are the temperature, the humidity, the level of oxygen versus CO2, and the air turbidity in the room,” he said.
The results have been impressive.
“Blue Oysters, Black Oysters and King Trumpet, and we’ve also got Chestnut mushrooms, Golden Enoki and Lion’s Mane mushroom,” said Weber.
Scaling the business, they’re now able to reach more customers, like The Dearborn in the heart of the Loop, where mushrooms appear all over the menu. On a pizza, Black and Blue Trumpets along with Chestnuts…
“…we just put the Chestnuts in for kind of meatiness…”
Trumpets and shitakes are sauteed with dumplings…even braised for soups.
“We use mushrooms in areas where you still want to have a substantial meal that feels good, that feels filling,” said Aaron Cuschieri, chef at The Dearborn.
A little bit of everything is sauteed, then placed on a roll with cheese on the other side, for a decadent melt that’s broiled open-faced, griddled and pressed like a panini.
“They just have that meaty chew that you want, and they’re rich,” said Cuschieri.
For more information:
145 N. Dearborn St.
177 N. Ada St.