Asheville mushroom expert branches out
Alan Muskat starts up 'forage-to-table' dinners and dance parties

August 2nd, 2012


Alan Muskat and participants act out a poem about mushrooms called "The Elf and the Dormouse"

A known mushroom hunter, Alan Muskat has now moved into the realm of mushroom philosopher.

"My teaching has evolved away from 'What is it? Can I eat it?' to 'What would it be like to have more of a relationship with this plant?'" said the longtime Asheville resident, who regularly leads mushroom-hunting trips around Western North Carolina. "It sounds a little airy-fairy to some people. But after selling hundreds of pounds of mushrooms a year to restaurants, I sort of burned out on that level and teaching that way."

This summer, in addition to leading outings, he's writing essays about foraging and the natural world on his website. At the same time, he’s being written about by local publications and health blogs. His classes have now also taken a slightly different tum, focusing less on mushroom identification and more on how to get along well in nature. "What feeds people ultimately is not the tomato or the mushroom. It's the appreciation and the feeling that the earth isn't some inhospitable place,” he said.


Alan Muskat prepares to cook mushrooms of the genus Boletus at a class in late July.

In a new series of classes, No Taste Like Home, participants walk around the woods exploring and identifying mushrooms for about two hours. Then, as at the class last month in the woods near Black Mountain's Earthaven Ecovillage, the class was followed by a "forage–to–table" dinner. All 20 class members cooked a meal (with help from Earthaven's White Owl Café Chef Tricia Baehr), using ingredients they had hunted down in the woods. In fact, three small teams made one dish each.

"It's Survivor meets Iron Chef Appalachia," Muskat wrote in an email to the group.


Alan Muskat stalking the wild mushroom

After dinner, there was "wild dancing." The tunes, mostly funk and disco, were chosen by Alan himself, a former DJ who grew up in Miami and admits (somewhat sheepishly) that he still likes to wear polyester. "We had a good time," he said. "It's all about integrating it into a larger picture that people wouldn't expect."