Omnivore - A chat with mushroom expert Eugenia Bone

The cookbook author to speak twice this week in Atlanta


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  • SHROOM LADY: Cookbook author Eugenia Bone has two ATL appearances on the books this week

Eugenia Bone is a woman of many enthusiasms. A mushroom expert, she’s the president of the New York Mycological Society. She’s also a James Beard Award-nominated author, a master preserver, and a member of a cohort of cooks, writers and thinkers who are reimagining their way around the American home kitchen, asking questions like, “Why throw away those carrot tops when they could make an excellent pesto?”

Bone will be at the Georgia Center for the Book (DeKalb County Public Library, 215 Sycamore St., Decatur, 404-370-3070. www.georgiacenterforthebook.org) today, Tues., June 2, 7:15 p.m., to speak about the kitchen ecosystem. And tomorrow, Wed., June 3, 7-9 p.m., she will present to the Mushroom Club of Georgia at Intown Community Church (2059 Lavista Road N.E., 404-633-8077. www.intown.org). Bone recently checked in with Creative Loafing by phone, from the shade of a wisteria arbor in the Hamptons over Memorial Day Weekend, ahead of her visit to the Southeast:

Let’s start by talking a little bit about your background. What were some formative experiences that led you to mycology?

I got into mushrooms because I wanted to forage for them. When you find wild mushrooms it’s like a miracle. It reminds us of when we’re young and encounters with nature feel like full of magic and mystery. I started out by talking to friends and going on mushroom hunts with them and then joining the New York Mycological Society. I started to attend the forays and festivals that go on all over the country, where you can hunt different kinds of mushrooms. And so my talk on June 3 is about festivals and forays that the amateur mushroom enthusiasts can enjoy.

So what happened is that I started out being interested in mushrooms to eat, but in order to find them you have to learn something about why they live where they live. That’s my doorway into mycology. Then I fell down the rabbit hole and I became so intellectually stimulated, I didn’t need to pick mushrooms.

The mushroom foragers I know all seem borderline-obsessed with fungi. What about them do you think sings this siren song to people?

I think it’s ultimately about communing with nature. It’s a window by which people can go deep with nature. I think a birder might say the same thing. That’s what’s ultimately addicting, this deep participation with nature that doesn’t require a conversation. It’s almost like going to where you belong, being in the woods is a fundamentally rewarding and fulfilling thing. And finding mushrooms is a kind of affirmation of the experience.

You say that understanding mushroom biology can help you cook them better. Can you offer us a piece of wisdom?

I guess the one nugget would be that fungi are closer on the tree of life to animals than they are to plants. And so when you cook a mushroom, cook it like a protein.

Your latest book is called The Kitchen Ecosystem. What does that term mean to you?

It’s the way chefs cook. It’s a modernization of a 20th century model of cooking, where seasonal ingredients — you keep them fresh, preserve some and use the waste stream of both to make other products, like stocks, that will bump up the flavor of future meals. The more self-referential the cooking cycle is, the more defined and diverse your kitchen becomes. So it’s much like an ecosystem, in that it’s a particularity of place — you know maybe you’re diabetic, and your kitchen and cooking style come to reflect that — and efficiency. That’s true of an ecosystem, and of the diversity of homemade products.