Mushrooms bloom

A fungus invasion begins in Sebastopol
Elaine Rowland

When Malcolm Clark mentions Baby Blue Oyster, Trumpet Royale, and Cinnamon Cap, you might think he's extolling his favorite racehorses. But the curious names that roll so quickly off his tongue refer to the fresh mushrooms his company, Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., grows in two climate-controlled facilities in Sebastopol.

For 30 years, Clark has been relentlessly tracking cultivatable fungus around the globe. He supplies certified organic fresh mushrooms to gourmet markets as well as such standout chefs as Roland Passot of La Folie and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry.

Clark's interest in unusual mushrooms was fed by a friendship with renowned mycologist Tsuneto Yoshii, whom he met in Japan. With the help of business partner David Law, Clark built his mushroom farm in Sebastopol.

"Everybody seemed to test-market their products in California because Californians were so liberal and willing to try anything once," Clark laughs. "That's not quite true," he admits, but it also "looked like a great place to live." And San Francisco made an especially appealing market for those first fresh shiitake mushrooms. Adapting a Japanese process to grow the mushrooms in a sawdust mix instead of wood not only assures purity but speeds up the growth cycle. Over time Clark has refined his technique to the point where he can grow the mushrooms anywhere. But with a devoted following, why would he ever want to leave?

Taste test: Gourmet Mushrooms Inc. mushrooms are available at Whole Foods Markets www.wholefoods.com and Trader Joe's www.traderjoes.com. To order a gift basket (from $46), contact GMI www.mycopia.com or 707/823-1743.