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Kiwi Mushrooms Go Global

As the hospitality industry grapples with Covid-19 restrictions, some of New Zealand’s top foodies are finding innovative new ways to showcase Kiwi produce.

Next month, New Zealand will make its debut at the eighth Soria Gastronomica, considered to be the most important International Mushroom Congress in the world. The biennial event is held in Soria, Castilla y León, Spain and attracts famous chefs and scientists from all corners of the globe. But this year, thanks to Covid-19, the conference will be held entirely online.

“Participants for 2020 will include two chefs per country with representatives from Spain, Portugal, Mexico, China, Japan, Canada and New Zealand, and although most of us can’t attend in person, technology is enabling exciting and fresh ways to participate on the global stage,” says Jasbir Kaur, General Manager of cookery and hospitality school Ignite Colleges and President of NZChefs’ Auckland chapter.

The top chef has teamed up with esteemed mushroom scientist Dr Alexis Guerin and Huka Lodge executive chef Paul Froggatt, to shine the spotlight on niscalo mushrooms grown in the South Island of New Zealand.

Jasbir's mushroom creation for the conference

“We want to let chefs from all over the world know what fantastic quality New Zealand mushrooms are, and we also want to share some different ways of cooking with them.”

The talented trio have developed a high end documentary video for the conference, including Jasbir’s step-by-step guide to making mushroom caramel and kawakawa custard.

“First, I ferment the mushrooms in a bed of salt for four days, which is a technique traditionally used in Russia and India. Flavour is added through bay leaves, garlic, cinnamon and star anise and then I caramelise sugar, and slowly infuse the mushrooms and cream into it, creating a salty mushroomy caramel. This is accompanied by custard made from milk and dried kawakawa leaves.”

While mushroom caramel and kawakawa custard are an unlikely pairing, Jasbir believes they make a winning combination, and is enjoying inspiring her Ignite Colleges cookery students with this, and other equally original creations.

“It’s important that New Zealand chefs stay relevant and keep pushing the boundaries – even while we are navigating the challenges of a global pandemic. This is something that I strive to instil into all my student chefs at Ignite Colleges.”

Meanwhile chef Paul Froggatt will be transforming his niscalos mushrooms into an “Autumn walk”, a dish inspired by a stroll with his son, when the pair stumbled across mushrooms growing up through the undergrowth. Like Jasbir, Paul will present his dish to conference participants via video link.

“I like to eat a variety of mushrooms, and I think niscalos play well in the mix. I find them very interesting to use because they bring a different texture to the dish,” says Paul.

Soria Gastronomica runs over four weeks, and New Zealand will take centre stage on October 5 in a day dedicated to the Lactarius mushroom family – a large genus of mycorrhizal mushrooms that exude milk when damaged or cut. The variety New Zealand will be promoting at the event are commonly referred to as saffron milk caps. Harvested here since 2002, they are remarkable for their distinctive orange flesh and milk.

While they are not unique to Aotearoa, Dr Guerin believes there is great potential for New Zealand to boost its niscalos production and grow its marketability.

“Niscalos is extremely popular because it is a meaty mushroom species. You can grill it on the barbecue and it doesn’t turn spongy, it remains firm. We call it a mushroom steak and steak has a very good image here,” says Dr Guerin.

“There is a real opportunity for New Zealand to become a famous producer of niscalos. We are in the off-season from most countries, our technology is almost ready to be scaled up and we have plenty of land. What’s more, our image as a green country with high quality produce will help us develop a worldwide market, especially in places like Asia.”

Soria Gastronomica could be an excellent first step to achieving just that.

For more information about Soria Gastronomica visit:

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