This year is my second year that I have been selected as one of fourteen bloggers from around Australia to participate in Mushroom Mania. This is a campaign run by the Australian Mushroom Growers Association in the month of July every year where they join thousands of restaurants, cafes, bistros, pubs and clubs to celebrate the wondrous mushroom. They spread their message through both traditional and online media and run competitions where you can win $100 restaurant vouchers. For the past few years they have embraced food blogs as a way to communicate with foodies and recruit a handful of us to do what we do best, go out to restaurants, eat and shoot food then go home and write about it. The only catch is that we have to eat dishes containing mushrooms!
Now this is an easy task for me. Mushrooms have got to be one of my favourite ingredients and I am not lying when I say I eat them daily. Last year my Mushroom Mania posts were two very different experiences. Firstly we visited the stunning Millbrook Winery in Jarrahdale where after our meal the manager took us mushroom foraging and we then dined at Divido, Mouth Hawthorn where three out of four courses contained mushrooms including some black truffles!
This year I was keen to learn more about these highly nutritious fungi so I met up with Cris Douwes from Perth City Farm where their recently funded GRO project has commenced growing their own organic mushrooms. Perth City Farm is a not-for-profit organisation funded by government grants and is helped out by many volunteer workers. The mushrooms that they grow are served in local cafés and restaurants including their own café, and they also sell them in both fresh and dry forms at their weekend organic farmer’s market. The plan is eventually to expand this business commercially once they are happy they have their formula perfected.
I love seeing someone who is passionate about their job, we spend so much of our lives working it seems negligent to your own happiness to not follow in pursuit of something you love. Within minutes of meeting Cris I could tell that mushrooms really rocked his world. He was a wealth of knowledge and proudly showed us around the farm detailing how his mushrooms are grown.
Fungi are known to be the biggest organism on the planet with the fungi mycelia being able to spread over large distances over thousands of years. Mushrooms are the “fruit bodies” of fungi and are part of their reproductive state. In nature fungi have to compete with many other organisms. In order to maximise growth of mushrooms in a commercial situation, they must be grown on pasteurised substrate in a very controlled environment giving them exclusive access to all nutrients.
At Perth City Farm they lessen the impact coffee production businesses have on the environment by utilising coffee by-products to grow their gourmet mushrooms on. Left over coffee husks and grounds that would normally be discarded as rubbish are turned into nutritious soil compost. As the fungi grow on this substrate they recycle the by-products into what can then be sold as garden compost. To make the substrate for mushrooms to grow on, they have to pasteurise it to remove all other organisms. In summer this is achieved by use of their solar-powered “oven” which can reach temperatures of over 85 degrees Celsius in summer. In winter they are unable to achieve adequate temperatures with this oven and instead use a 44-gallon drum which they heat using steam that is powered by natural gas burners.
The sterile coffee by-product substrate is then inoculated with the mushroom’s spores (mycelium) in front of a laminar flow hood that was kindly donated by King Park. The laminar flow hood provides a sterile air environment to prevent any contamination. They currently have fungal cultures that are able to grow a variety of edible mushrooms including Pearl Oysters, Gold Oysters, Shiitake, King Oysters, Grey Oysters, Pink Oysters, Blue Oysters, Ulmarius and Phoenix. The inoculated bags of mycelium mixed with substrate are then kept in a climate controlled dark room and allowed to grow into a solid white brick called a “cake”. This is the fungi in its vegetative state and it will continue to grow until it runs out of nutrients.
In order to turn this hardened bag of fungi into the delicious fruits we call mushrooms it needs to be triggered into its reproductive state. There are four triggers needed for fruiting: fresh air exchange, light, temperature change (shock) and humidity. Cris informed us it is an art form to get the balance of these trigger factors in the “fruiting room” just right. As we cast our eyes around his fruiting room it looked like he was pretty close to cracking the code.
Just as we finished our tour the chef came over to us with a plate piled high with what looked at first glance to be pieces of chicken. My eyes widened as I learnt that the delightfully fleshy dish was actually made purely of oyster mushrooms that had been freshly harvested. The mushrooms were lightly sautéed using fresh organic herbs from their garden and topped with some goat cheese and crisp rocket. Even a seasoned mushroom lover like myself was left surprised how meaty this dish seemed and I can understand why some people call it the meat for vegetarians!
The Boy is an avid gardener and had dashed out in his lunch break to join us on the farm tour so he ordered a salad for something quick before returning to work. Richly coloured roast vegetables, more flavoursome herbs and chickpeas turned his vegetarian salad into a satisfyingly filling express lunch that he wolfed down before departing quickly.
The café staff were much too kind to us and refused to let us pay for our lunch despite our retorts so we decided to sneakily return the next day as a fee paying customer. I ordered some soft-boiled eggs with dukkah and gluten free buttered soldiers accompanied by some more grilled mushrooms. My eggs were perfectly dippable coating each strip of toast in yellow happiness. The dukkah was a flavoursome addition to this simple favourite. The farm’s fresh herbs featured again in the grilled field mushrooms dish although these were nearly as meaty as the oyster mushrooms the previous day.
Neither of us had woken up very well that morning and in my sleepiness I think I accidentally ordered the Boy Eggs Benedict instead of the requested vegetarian version; the Eggs Florentine. He wasn’t very impressed with the sight of meat on his plate and I felt a bit bad for my careless error. Aside for the unwanted addition of ham, the rest of the dish was very much to his liking most notably the house made hollandaise, which he found rich and buttery with a slight tang.
Perth City Farm Café is a must visit breakfasty-brunch spot in Perth. For those who have grown their own produce at home you will appreciate the freshness of their home-grown ingredients. Your body will love you for eating organic and most importantly you will be minimising the impact your meal has on the environment.This restaurant was reviewed as part of Mushroom Mania month which is happening all across Australia during July 2013. Head to the Power of Mushrooms website for loads of mouthwatering mushroom recipes plus if you write your own review on a mushroom dish you could win one of 40 $100 restaurant vouchers! Disclosure: Chompchomp dined at Perth City Farm with compliments of the Australian Mushroom Growers Association. Perth City Farm Café 1 City Farm Road, East Perth WA 6004 | 0418 594 408 | perthcityfarm.org.au Price: $ Food: 4/5 (home grown, seasonal fresh produce and gooey eggs) Service: 4/5 (everyone obviously loves working here) Ambience: 4/5 (feels like a country garden in the city) Drinks: 4/5 (Rubra coffee is a winner) Total: 16/20