Shortly after moving in with my close friend, Spencer, I was introduced to the adventure that is mushroom foraging. After working as a cook at a few notable restaurants around Montreal, Spencer has found himself at Tuck Shop; a well respected little gem in St-Henri. Spencer spends his mushroom foraging days with Theo, chef and proud co-owner of Tuck Shop, a restaurant that thrives on local produce. As a market cuisine restaurant, Tuck Shop’s menu changes daily, based on what vegetables, meat, and fish are locally available and fresh.
Their passion for food does not stop when these two leave the doors of the restaurant. Spending their non-work days experimenting with and researching food, leaves these two—as well as many other cooks around the city—with essentially no days off. Starting around 6:00 or 7:00 a.m., mushroom hunting is no joke. Having established a mental map of several top secret mushroom locations—scouted to keep the best mushroom harvests under wraps, as well as, to remain discreet while in action—Theo only allows a very select group of people to join him on these expeditions.
Having been eager to document these fungal scavenger hunts deep in the woods, I was privileged to have a day off that coincided with one of their most recent trips. I was allowed to tag along under two conditions: keep up and don’t ever return to or share these locations with another human being.
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We set off on a Wednesday morning. Theo picks us up in his black jeep—ideal for off-roading in remote locations. En-route to previously scouted locations, we keep our eyes peeled for any promising looking spots along the highway. Each time they go foraging, Spencer and Theo determine their target mushroom species for the day based on the season and terrain. On this specific trip, they are foraging for various types of fungi, stopping to pick a couple of wildflowers on the way (to be displayed in-shop).
The forests that we visit are peaceful and secluded; lazy beams of light peak through the canopy above. Out of the many spots we visit, we come across a couple that seem truly enchanted—one of which is home to the Nectar Delicieux, a mushroom species that smells like fruit loop cereal.
The first find of the day is a Chicken of the Woods, nestled in the base of a tree. Spencer and Theo maintain a well-timed pace as they move through the underbrush of the forest. They are fast yet efficient—these two recognize that when one mushrooms pops up, a bigger patch is bound to be nearby. During a quick break away from my camera, I get my hands dirty and pick a few Chanterelle of my own.
Having collected about fifteen different mushroom species— Lobsters, Matsutakis, Porcinis, Pigs Ears, Chanterelles, Slippery Jacks, and Orange Nirch Boletes, etc—at the first location alone, our haul is a good one. As we collect this assortment of edible species, we spot a few inedible treasures along the way: Dragon’s Beard, Jelly Babies and the deadly ‘Destroying Angel’.
As Spencer and Theo expertly navigate through various areas of the forest, I am taught name after name, species after species. I am told that if you know where to look for them (and how to identify them), mushrooms are everywhere. High up in trees, under layers of pine, between ferns, and on logs—keep your eyes peeled and you’ll notice them at every turn. Five hours and five spots later, the day is done. Spencer and Theo are satisfied with the day’s haul, a total of 15 lbs worth of mixed mushrooms for the restaurant. We pile back in to the jeep and head home.