Why Mushroom Cultivation Is A Booming Craft Among Many Chefs

Mushrooms are having a moment right now, and that statement isn't limited to your standard portobellos or criminis. With more than 2,000 edible varieties of mushrooms known in existence, the everlasting trend that is superfoods has opened up our minds — and our plates — to the seemingly never-ending world of fungi. In doing so, the culinary world has had free reign to explore the diverse possibilities that these many different species have to offer. From more well-known varieties like lion's mane and king oyster to rare delicacies of the likes of jian shou qing and matsutakes, mushrooms have all the flavor, texture, nutrients, and creative opportunities that many chefs thrive off of — so much so that mushroom cultivation has become a booming craft among them.

As Ollie Hutson, the Head Kitchen Gardener of The Pig Hotels Group in the U.K., told Fine Dining Lovers, "Cultivating mushrooms is part of a larger movement to a more conscious and sustainable way of eating." That makes sense, considering that many varieties, including lion's mane and king oyster, are revered for their meat-like textures. As such, mushrooms are often sought after as alternatives in dishes that would commonly include animal proteins, allowing chefs to expand their menus to include options for their vegan, vegetarian, and flexitarian guests. But cultivating mushrooms in-house has additional advantages. Not only do they not need to be refrigerated, but their high yield-to-space ratio also means that chefs can consistently have a steady supply on hand without losing too much kitchen real estate.

Mushrooms in the restaurant business

From coast to coast, more mushrooms — and mini mushroom farms — are appearing in restaurants and on restaurant menus. And for good reason: They're accessible within a range of diets and easy to grow in urban environments. You may remember Mission Chinese Food's long-lost Lower East Side location, and its futuristic mushroom garden — that is, until the restaurant closed in January 2023, making San Francisco's Mission Chinese officially the last one standing. It may not be around anymore, but the company that made it is. Smallhold, the urban farm tech startup that installed it, provides the technology for businesses to grow mushrooms on-site, and you can spot them at restaurants and grocery stores across Texas, LA, and New York City. Similar companies, like Wyreside Mushrooms and The Mushroom Garden, operate in other parts of the world, too.

That's not the only way chefs are growing their own mushrooms in-house, however. Fallow, a restaurant in London known for its bestselling mushroom parfait starter, supplies its fungi-featuring dishes from a lofted farm within the restaurant. The setup is small and relatively low-tech, but it works. Everything from lion's mane to golden enoki and shiitakes to hen of the woods can be spotted growing out of bags of mycelium, and in consistent availability — something that's become more and more unpredictable for foraged mushrooms. Chefs say they taste and maintain their texture better when they're harvested on-site, too. No wonder growing your own mushrooms is so popular in the culinary community!