Culinary Friends Make Mushroom Magic

A sell-out crowd at Fresh Starts Chef Events opened the New Year with good cheer: an “East meets West” menu presented by a band of culinary friends led by Chef John Ash, a Bay Area favorite.

Sparkling wine and two mushroom pâtés kicked off the evening, which featured the exotic wares of Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc., in four courses. Other friends in the lineup were Verlasso salmon and award-winning Merry Edwards Winery.

Chef John Ash and Chef Mei Ibach in demo kitchen

Chef John Ash and Chef Mei Ibach partnered to present the menu.

Chef Mei Ibach, partnering with Chef John, created the first course: Zen Lemongrass Coconut Soup with Clamshell Mushrooms. She outlined the five-flavor profile of Asian

Chef Mei Ibach holding bunch of mushrooms.

Chef Mei Ibach shows off the clamshell mushrooms.

cooking — salty, sour, sweet, and hot, plus umami, the so-called “fifth flavor,” added by the mushrooms.

Chef John, a James Beard Foundation award-winner and lauded culinary educator, followed with a Grilled Mushroom & Citrus Salad with Bucheret. “Recipes are just guides,” in his words, and he demonstrated by pan-frying the marinated Trumpet Royale mushrooms since he lacked a grill.

He uses Redwood Hill Farm‘s Bucheret goat cheese for the salad, adding citrus because “sweet is part of all savory dishes.” The first two courses arrived with 2013 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc from Merry Edwards Winery.

Grilled Mushroom Salad with Citrus & Bucheret Cheese

Grilled Mushroom & Citrus Salad with Bucheret cheese.

Both Brendan Tierney, the winery’s sommelier, and David Law, founder of Gourmet
Mushrooms, spoke about their work, adding insight to the delicious food. Behind the scenes, the Fresh Starts Culinary Academy crew prepared the recipes for guests.

Chef John presented Pan-Roasted Salmon with Herb Butter plus a Beggar’s Purse of Maitake Mushrooms while praising the 2013 Meredith Estate Pinot Noir and pronouncing Merry Edwards the “doyenne” of winemakers.

Chefs John Ash and Mei Ibach-31

Chef John holds the Beggar’s Purse of Maitake Mushrooms.

He explained his choice of salmon from Verlasso, a unique company, as part of his adherence to sustainable seafood. The company produces the first farmed salmon stamped as sustainable by the Seafood Watch program.

His tips on fish: use a hot pan and get the oil to almost smoking (never cook if it passes that point), and cook with the skin on. The fish was delicious, but the beggar’s purse of mushrooms baked in parchment was the star, opening with irresistible aromas of mushrooms, lemon, and butter.

For dessert, Chef Mei treated guests to a new recipe of Candied Nameko Mushrooms & Thai Basil Panna Cotta. She explained that Nameko mushrooms, a Japanese varietal, often go into soup, but baking and infusing with simple syrup brings out a sweet side.

Panna Cotta with Candied Mushrooms

Served with her unique panna cotta, a little raspberry purée and mint, her composition also showcased the Asian flavor gods and paired with Merry Edwards’ 2012 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.

To invite the flavor gods into your kitchen, Chef Mei offers this recipe:

Chefs John Ash and Mei Ibach-38

Zen Lemongrass Coconut Soup with Clamshell Mushrooms – Serves 6

1 tablespoon grapeseed or canola oil
4 lemongrass stalks, pale parts only, crushed with the flat side of a knife
2 medium onions, sliced 1/8-inch thick
2 Thai or Serrano chiles, stemmed but not seeded, minced (optional)
3 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla) or more to taste (prefer “Red Boat” brand)
5 cups homemade chicken broth or low-sodium canned chicken broth
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons tamarind juice
Juice of 1 lime or to taste
5-6 kaffir lime leaves, remove stem in the middle and cut into thin strips
4 ounces clamshell mushrooms from Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc., remove stems
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallion greens
Sprigs of fresh cilantro to garnish

1.    Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the lemongrass, stir, and let it sweat uncovered for 2 minutes. Add the onions and chiles, if using, and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute.

2.    Add the fish sauce and broth, then stir and bring to a simmer. Cook until the liquid is reduced slightly to intensify its flavor, 15 to 20 minutes. Whisk in the coconut milk, tamarind juice, lime juice and kaffir limes leaves and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes.

3.    Add the clamshell mushrooms and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with the scallions and cilantro. Ladle into individual bowls and serve immediately.




About Fresh Starts Chef Events

Fresh Starts Chef Events offers a parade of presentations by celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and artisan producers in The Key Room. Visit the online calendar at for upcoming events. Our list of presenters includes luminaries from the worlds of food, wine and restaurants who share stories, demonstrate techniques and offer tips on making the most of our local bounty. You can register online for upcoming classes or call us for more details at 415-382-3363 x243. Proceeds from our events support shelter and job-training programs at Homeward Bound of Marin; learn more at and
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