Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mushroom mafia or '37'

"Nature alone is antique and the oldest art a mushroom."
Thomas Carlyle

My parents just returned from the Haida Guaii, otherwise known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, where they were picking wild mushrooms for mad cash. The Charlottes are located 300 km of the northwest coast of British Columbia and are a day’s trip from my parents place in New Hazelton. Sometimes called the Galapagos of the North, I have fond memories of that wild, lush place: BC’s own little tropics, it seemed to me.

My parent’s had originally planned a four-day bike trip around the islands to relax and see the sights, but ended up hooking up with some mushroom-picking cronies, signing their souls over to the mushroom mafia, and staying three weeks for the remainder the chanterelle season. (more on the mafia later, it’s not a joke. I have to get the full story from my dad). They loved their time roaming the deep rainforest and picking chanterelles. My mum’s only complaint was:

“Some guys from Quebec pitched their tent right in front of the outhouse that doesn’t have a door!”

I know these little chanterelle beauties (called giroles in French) from my three years at Toque! where I probably cooked enough of them to crust the entire Island of Montreal in a nice duxelles. We received more than just the one mushroom variety from the QC’s, there were morels, black trumpets and the infamous pine, too.

The Montreal mushroom scene is pretty weird. It is mostly controlled by one family of Eastern European decent (don’t know where for sure) who are all in competition with each other.

The guy I dealt with at Toque was called Serge, an elderly, short, stocky fellow who shuffled in with a basket over his arm, usually while we were in the middle of service. He would lean on the counter and wait for a lull, meanwhile checking out the girls with a gleam in his eyes. He was self-reputed to have, ahem, ‘done it’ with his wife 37 times in one night, and this seemed to be an undisputable fact that simply everyone knew about on the cooking scene. While he waited, usually one of the guys on the line would holler out,

“Trente-sept, eh Serge?”

to which he would straighten up, shake a finger at the cook and say,

“OUI, trente-sept”.

With my parents having picked them, and I having served them, it seems like we have had a mushroom ‘full circle’ moment, as Oprah would say. Ok, maybe we should reserve that term for something a little more monumental, but I though it was pretty cool.


Amber said...

Mmmm I miss different kinds of mushrooms living in Guate; there are some in the market but they look a bit , um questionable. So there are good old white mushroomsw in the supermercado 1/2 hour away sometimes - I have to be content with those I guess:)
Crazy story about the mushroom guy too - I laughed out loud.
I love the Queen Charlottes! I want to take Zaak and fam there someday.

Anonymous said...

I loved the story! Too funny...keep up the good work Aimee

Zaak said...

My parents did mushrooms too, but many years ago and I was still a baby. Mom says they were pretty potent and she didn't enjoy them that much.

I think maybe Serge has done shrooms too. Eh Serge?

Ivan J. said...

Hi Aimée! nice story about the mushrooms! my mouth was salivating while reading about you cooking the Chanterelles.

I end up in your blog because I am thinking about travelling to the Queen Charlotte to visit for the first time the Islands and maybe to pick some mushrooms too.

Do you know when does the season start? Could you give me any advice?
thank you!

My email,


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