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As children we are continuously reminded that most mushrooms in the wild are poisonous and we should stay away. Without the proper knowledge, how are we to know the difference?
This is where the mushroom expert, Justin Williams, comes in. He has been foraging since the age of 10, so who better to go into the Grootbos forest with than the man himself?
We start off as a group of 10 chefs, including our executive chef, Ben Conradie, our GM, Sean Ingles, and of course the mushroom forager, Justin Williams. We head into the forest with positive attitudes knowing that mushroom season has just come to an end, but we are all very hopeful that we are going to come out with some treasures.
Walking into the fynbos forest feels like a fairytale. I can imagine the tale of Hansel and Gretel, minus the evil witch! It is an absolutely breathtaking view and yet only the beginning.
Justin explains to us that the pretty pink woven basket is not only a fashion statement, but that it is also essential for mushroom foraging. Mushrooms are continuously letting off spores and by using these baskets, as you collect the mushrooms, the spores drop through the basket allowing for further regeneration. Therefore, you are conserving the species as you walk.
We walk through the forest with our “mushroom eyes” in full force and come across our first mushroom. It is an edible one, which makes us all very excited. However, we soon learn that this particular species contains a non-lethal toxin than can cause a bad reaction if consumed within a few days before or after having had any alcohol. We leave this one behind and continue with our journey.
We then stumble along the next edible mushroom as pointed out by Gerrit Van Dyk, one of the sous-chefs. It is a peculiar looking fungus; one that without prior knowledge, you would never say is a mushroom. “ The Jelly Ear “ typically grows on larger trees in the forest and definitely lives up to its name as it looks exactly like little ears growing off the side of a tree.
As we head back we find a number of mushrooms that are much larger than the Jelly Ear, growing as “brackets” on large decaying trees that lie on the forest floor. Justin explains that these are not in fact edible but are used in teas for Asian medicinal healing.
Justin is very excited that we have found some edible mushrooms despite the season being over. He explains about a particular mushroom called the “morel”, which is typically found in the Western Cape. He tells us that there would be a 90% chance that we could find it on the reserve. The flavour of a morel can be compared to a truffle, a worldwide delicacy. After hearing this, we are all very excited to get back into the forest as soon as the next season begins in order to hopefully come across one of these treasures.
Back in the kitchen, we try a number of different cooking methods on the Jelly Ears and collectively decide that the best way of producing an amazing flavour from the mushrooms was to make a delectable broth for the amuse-bouche that evening.
The weather is prefect for something as comforting as a flavourful broth. We also use some of Justin Williams Products in the making of the broth with mushroom powder and dried shitakes to really enhance the mushroom flavour.
It was an amazing experience to spend time foraging in the forest for new ingredients to be used in the kitchen. It was inspiring and opened up our minds to become more confident to go out and try new things without being inhibited from fear.
I can’t wait for the new adventures and next mushroom foraging season!