White Shimeji to the King Oyster – Scott Marshall Knows his Fungi!

WHEN people tell Scott Marshall they don’t like mushrooms, he has an easy response for them.

“Saying you don’t like mushrooms because you’ve had some bland cup mushrooms on the side of a fry-up is a bit like having liver and not liking it and then saying because of that you don’t like meat.

“I know where people are coming from in a way. When I was younger I was fed those mushrooms that had been boiled so all their taste was gone and they were really greasy. But people are missing out if they think that’s all there is to it.”

forest-fungi-mushrooms-2Chances are most of us have had some small, grey and insipid mushrooms with the taste fried out of them and decided they’re not for us. But Scott wants us all to know that’s no reason to cut fungi from our diet.

At his Forest Fungi mushroom production business and cafe down in Devon you’ll find varieties you may never have heard of and certainly won’t find down at the local supermarket.

From the White Shimeji to the King Oyster or the Enoki, there are huge differences in taste and as well as tasting good as part of meals, they have huge health benefits.

Scott found this out the hard way. Diagnosed with testicular cancer while working as a manager for furniture retailer DFS in London in 2006, he ended up turning to mushrooms after being battered by viruses following his treatment.

“Shiitake help regenerate white blood cells and it’s those cells which take a real hammering post chemo treatment. My immunity was really low and I was picking up anything that was going round, viruses, bugs, coughs and colds etc.

“Within two or three months of making some changes and bringing in the Shiitake I found I wasn’t picking up those illnesses. I certainly felt a lot better in myself.”

The experience of changing his diet inspired Scott to investigate the world of mushrooms further.

forest-fungi-mushrooms-1“It’s all-round nutrition as well. My fiancée is interested in nutrition and is committed to juicing as a way of life so there’s certain raw foods and vegetables we supplemented them with and I tried cutting out red meat and alcohol, the things that prevent your body from healing.

“But initially it was the mushrooms that really interested me and I’ve now gone a bit geeky with it and investigate all the possibilities that go with them.

“I’m still learning. We had an e-mail only yesterday from a professor at the University of Detroit who’s establishing some techniques with Chaga, which is a new type of mushroom in terms of health benefits. He’s breaking a lot of new ground with those.”

Things that are good for us aren’t always the most appetising. Who hasn’t pined for a nice creamy sweet yoghurt while eating a kiwi fruit? But Scott’s experience with Forest Fungi has taught him that there are many delicious possibilities out there.

“The world of edible mushrooms is so vast. There’s so many varieties in terms of texture and taste that you can usually find something to appeal to everyone, especially if it’s part of a bigger dish.

“We’ve had success with meat eaters with steak, for example. It’s a good combination and we’ve turned plenty of people into mushroom fans that way.”

Down at Forest Fungi you’ll find the “Shroom Room”, a space where Scott and his team have painstakingly created the same microclimate which matches the conditions that mushrooms in Asia grow so well in.

Dating back thousands of years this method helps produce stunning results which customers, both public and from the catering trade, benefit from. The fresh supply from Forest Fungi is helping counterbalance the fact that so few people these days go out and pick their own mushrooms.

“In the early 1900s foraging was a fairly widespread activity and it was how people got their mushrooms but it seems to have skipped a generation and around the post-war period got lost somehow” says Scott.

Part of his business is a cafe, which has been open for 18 months. With mushrooms featuring heavily on the menu, as you’d expect, Forest Fungi also offers a shopfront for more than 100 local producers whose chutneys, jams etc are sold there.

Looking ahead to 2017, Scott is hoping to take the mushroom message to a wider audience.

“The original plan was always the mushrooms and now the retail side is established we’re focussing back on the mushroom side this autumn and go out to the food shows. We did the Nourish food show and went to Totnes the weekend just gone.  We’re going to quite a few to raise our profile a bit.

“We’re coming to Bristol VegFest next year. We don’t have to cook them in butter, we’ve got a decent truffle oil supplier so we can cook them in those and it provides a good, healthy protein-rich meal.

“We are pursuing the vegetarian market more. The water content in the mushrooms most people experience is very high. The ones we grow have much lower water content and the protein levels are significantly higher. With the way we grow ours we think it’s a really good source of protein for vegetarians.”

Running a business with so many elements is keeping Scott busy, but he’s keen to remind people, especially chefs, it’s important to keep an eye on their own health.

Working in catering is often a lifestyle that doesn’t allow much time for basic things like decent sleep let alone self examination and trips to the doctor, but Scott says it’s “absolutely vital” chefs don’t let their own health play second fiddle.

forest-fungi-logoThe next Chefs’ Forum event, Fabulous Fungi and Glorious Game, is being held at Forest Fungi on Monday September 26 from 12noon. Michael Wignall, Executive Head Chef at Gidleigh Park, will lead a cookery masterclass on combining mushrooms with game. Scott Marshall will give an expert introduction to the business, as well as leading a tour of the ‘Shroom Room’.