• Jonathan Till

The in between time

If you've been following us since the beginning (which I hope you have) you'll see our post on foraging have slowed a little. Don't worry, it's not because we've lost gusto! In fact quite the opposite! My protege and myself have been keeping very busy scouting out new spots, doing R&D, photo shoots, video shoots, inoculating mushroom logs, gardening on our rooftop, designing products and working on mapping out our wild mushroom exhibit! Plus don't forget I'm still running a restaurant that takes up 45-50 hours of my week...busy. But I wouldn't have it any other way. I've never felt so close to nature and had a better appreciation for what I do and what nature provides as I do right now.

Recently I did a photo shoot and interview for Virginia living magazine about being a foraging chef. I also did a video shoot for Monticello about how working with them has impacted my life. Unfortunately you're going to have to wait until July to see them, but don't worry, links will be posted as soon as they do come out.

As for R&D, we've been doing a good amount of research to find ways to efficiently, economically, and sustainably collect and clone some of the mushrooms that we find in the wild. We're chefs and foragers, so there's definitely a learning curve when you're trying to reproduce an environment that mother nature has taken millions of years to perfect...give me 6 months.

The other day while we were out scoping a trail to put our wild mushroom exhibit on and stumbled upon this mature chicken of the woods that hadn't yet dropped it spores (the mushrooms "seeds" that are produces and expelled from the gills). It was too tough for eating, you want to get them right as they are coming out and still soft and tender. But it was perfect for cloning. We harvested it being sure to leave some so that it can continue its life cycle, and brought it back to the restaurant, put it on some tinfoil and left it over night. The next day we collected the spores (seeds) that dropped and transplanted them to a "petri" dish we made out of a mason jar and Agar Agar. Agar Agar is a vegan gelatin made out of seaweed and its used in a lot of labs to grow specimens. Now seeing as we don't have a lab, we sanitized everything and we did the best we could. Being able to grow mushrooms will have 2 major benefits. First it will potentially help keep costs lower since we won't have to buy spawn and in turn we can pass our savings on to you! The second and more important reason is shipping spawn from across the country or even from another town leaves a much bigger carbon foot print than if we did it ourselves. It is more time consuming and we won't always be able to do this practice, but every little bit we can cut down helps.

And last but not least, the roof top garden at Evening Star Cafe! This has been a great passion of mine since taking over the Star almost 2 years ago. It's how I forged my relationship with Monticello, it's where I go for a moment of peace during a busy day and it's a great sense of pride to serve my guest food grown with my own hands. Because of the pandemic, we had a little trouble getting it going. When we finally were able to get back to work on it the weeds had claimed it for their own. It took us a few days of solid weeding but I'm happy to say once we fully open back up, we will still be serving our guests vegetable that were grown with lots of love right over their heads!

Keep any eye out for some new products hitting our Etsy store. We had our first sale the other day so were very excited about that. Start up for Heritage Foraging wasn't bad, but it wasn't cheap either. Especially when a lot of what we're going to be doing soon involves donating a lot of our time and resources to a nonprofit with a great cause....but that's for another time!

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