MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is May inside a regional park near the Minnesota River. The birds are celebrating a spring morning, as bird watchers carry their equipment down the paths hoping for a fleeting sight of a rare treasure.
At the same time, a chef from an elegant Minneapolis hotel is making his way down the path, also seeking a rare treasure.
“This one’s nice. A big fat morel,” said Tim Fischer, executive chef for Loews Hotel Minneapolis inside Mayo Clinic Square.
We are inside the Minnesota Valley, just 15 miles from downtown, looking around the trees and under the brush for spring’s greatest prize: the morel mushroom.
“They’re hidden, I mean they’re hidden in there good,” said Fischer.
Morels are considered America’s mushroom, because at the start of spring, they pop up in almost every state. Fischer said, he looks for dead elm trees, and looks near the trunk at first.
“It’ll be there, like the pot of gold. Boom, there it is,” he said.
To the hunter, the morel is as stunning as it is delicious: golden color, wrinkled texture, elusive. But then: magical.
Fischer said he’s been foraging for mushrooms for twenty years; he got hooked, leaving the woods after trout fishing.
“It was an experience like no other. It was like a yellow brick road of chanterelles. One stick of butter, some salt and pepper, and it was one of the greatest meals I ever had,” he said.
Whether we were lucky or good, our mid-morning hunt revealed a bounty of morels, almost begging, to be cooked.
“Who doesn’t like a good morel pizza?” asked Chef Fischer, standing over his stove.
Fischer said his favorite place is the woods, but a close second is his kitchen inside the 4th floor dining room of Cosmos Restaurant, in the Loews Minneapolis Hotel, Our fortune in the woods became a feast.
The stinging nettles, Fischer foraged, became a stunning cold soup. He turned fiddlehead ferns, ramps and morels into an incredible hot and cold salad.
“This should taste like our walk this morning,” he said.
And Fischer paired Minnesota-raised foie gras and 90 day dry-aged steak with morels and the stalks of hostas!
“I don’t spray my backyard, so it’s all organic and safe to eat,” said Fischer.
The hostas tasted fresh and bright and crunchy, a perfect textural counterpoint to the lush, creamy foie gras and beef.
Fischer created a true field-to-table meal. A fleeting snapshot of what Minnesota can taste like: right now.
“Morel hunting and foraging takes me to the outdoors, makes me think of everything I think I’m here for, hunting and gathering,” he said.
Fischer said, he and his wife enjoy foraging so much, they’ve created a side business where they sell their finds to other local chefs and restaurants.
“If things are getting a little stressful, let’s go for a walk in the woods,” he said.