BOSTON (CBS) – The planes overhead and the cracking of sticks underfoot are the sounds of Tyler Akabane’s workday. From early spring to December, he spends hours in wooded areas across Massachusetts looking for wild food, particularly mushrooms. Some are familiar-sounding, like porcini and chanterelles, but there are others that you’ll only find in the wild, like chicken mushrooms and milk caps.
It’s a passion that started by accident while he was working as a teacher. “The school I worked at, there were morels growing on campus, which is a delicacy for springtime. It’s probably one of the more expensive mushrooms,” Akabane explained.
From there, he studied mushrooms and identification techniques like the milky liquid inside the milk cap that is key to identifying that particular fungus because it can vary in shape and color.
He has now turned that hobby into a full-time job. He works with another forager to provide wild mushrooms to restaurants like Fat Hen in Somerville where, according to chef de cuisine Brian Miller, it’s all about locally-sourced ingredients. “Tyler always has something that is unique and obscure that people are not going to get anywhere else,” he said.
Miller said many chefs love wild mushrooms, but they don’t feel comfortable foraging on their own. “Because it’s such a fine line between good and bad,” he said, talking about the danger of poisonous mushrooms.
The day we tagged along with Akabane, he showed up at Fat Hen with several huge trays of mushrooms. Miller bought chanterelles for a duck dish and created an incredible looking small plate out of a single porcini mushroom. “So the porcini is seared and basted with butter. There’s some local burrata from Mozzarella House, some crispy shallots, and then two sauces,” he explained.
Miller also bought some of the chicken mushrooms that are large, flat and orange and grow on trees. He didn’t know exactly what he was going to do with them but hoped to come up with something creative to put on his tasting menu.
We also went out with Akabane in the woods (he didn’t want us to reveal his secret foraging locations). We found tiny little orange chanterelles, some milk caps and russula mushrooms, which are edible but not great for restaurants. “They are good,” he said. “But it’s hard to get them home without having them crumble.”
I am no expert, but I was pretty good at spotting them. I even tasted one that while not poisonous, Akabanke warned me would taste bitter. He was right, it was not good.
Akabane also teaches classes on foraging. There are even some dates where you can forage and then have a chef prepare what you have collected. “There is something super satisfying about picking something in the woods and bringing it home and eating it,” he said.