Editor's note: The 31st annual Telluride Shroomfest takes place next weekend. For an overview by Grand Poobah Art Goodtimes, follow this link.
Into the woods. It's a ritual this time of year in the Telluride region, where knives are drawn and the normally warm and chatty locals turn stone cold and stare blankly when asked one simple question: "Where do you hunt?" In Telluride, shrooming is a competitive sport.
And Josh Klein is no exception to the rule. When the subject is mushrooms, his bottom line is "Don't ask. Won't tell." Which gets really tricky when part of Josh's job is arranging special events such as fungi forages for guests and friends of his employer, the top drawer Hotel Madeline in Mountain Village.
Josh is the Food & Beverage Manager at Hotel Madeline, working directly under Chef Jake Linzinmeir of M's Restaurant, Bar M and The Inn at Lost Creek.
“We’re really focusing on creativity,” said Chef Linzinmeir, who calls his dining concept “Farm-to-Table Colorado Rocky Mountain Cuisine.”
“There’s a short-but-intense growing season at 9,500 feet in the Rockies," he adds, "but local producers have shown themselves to be enthusiastic about everything we’re doing.”
"Short-but-intense" applies in spades to the region's mushroom season, now in full swing thanks to early summer rains. Ergo the invitation.
Josh's email laid out the plan. On Thursday, August 11, a group of us were to meet at Hotel Madeline and then head out to "a wide open meadow between Dunton Hot Springs (once a hang out for miners and Bluegrass legends, now a high fallutin resort) and Lizard Head, a top secret – natch – chanterelle cache.
When we arrived at our destination, we hiked en masse up a no-name trail through no-name woods until we reached a (ditto) wide open meadow in full view of El Diente and the aforementioned Lizard Head. (Really Lizard Neck, since the local landmark was somehow decapitated ages ago.)
The spectacular scenery was straight off a postcard you would send to your great aunt Daisy to help her understand why you moved away – a blanket of green under a Colorado blue sky dotted with cotton ball clouds – except for one glaring detail. Right there in the middle of all that natural splendor sat a long table set for 22 – a mix of hotel guests, media, wine distributors, a florist and staff – with white linen, china, crystals and dozens of bottles of wine. That was a scene straight out of Fellini, or, well, stay tuned…
Clearly Josh is no slouch when it comes to entertaining. Fine dining is in his genetic stew: a great grandfather who worked for Jax Brewery, a grandfather who sold "spirits", family restaurants, a degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism from the University of New Orleans, apprenticeships at fine wineries and restaurants, etc. But this time, Josh outdid himself.
After several hours of hunting mushrooms in our little break-out groups with great success – my bag of King Boletes (also porcini or cepes) tipped the scale at about five pounds – we reunited at noon for the Main Event: Lunch.
And that was a scene out of "Babette's Feast" Telluride style, an al fresco, gonzo banquet prepared table side by Jose Rameriz, Lauryn Sargent, Mike Hall, Bobby Rodriguez and Andrew Rios of Chef Jake's staff. The menu included chanterelle/porcini risotto, organic roasted chicken (from Indian Ridge Farm & Bakery, Norwood) and brie, leek, chanterelle quiche with a porcini crust and dessert of fresh-baked cookies, all served with wines from mushroom-producing regions of Italy and France from Jean Luc Colombo, Fontana Fredda and Conti Sertoli Salis.
"I'm adding this one to my list of cherished life experiences," said Naomi Price, director, global accounts, Mandel Communications and my new BFF. "Josh brought together a group of individually amazing people who bonded over divine food and wine in a magical environment. We walked away friends."
(Naomi is married to Mark Price of Platinum Beverages, one of the wine importers and her ticket to the party.)
Customized adventures like Josh's mushroom outing are among the ways a boutique hotel like Madeline separates itself from the pack.
I for one am looking for a second helping.