You may never have heard of Connie Green—but some of the world’s top chefs, among them Thomas Keller, certainly have. They turn to her exclusively for their gourmet mushroom requirements, and she has been meeting their needs for several decades, foraging right from the woods around her Northern California establishment, Wine Forest Wild Foods.

Interestingly Connie is not only a top supplier, she helped establish the market for wild mushrooms in the first place. When California cuisine began its evolution in the 1970s with its focus on fresh, local ingredients, Connie was right there to provide the wondrous mushrooms foraged from her own virtual backyard. Suddenly delicacies such as local black trumpets, porcini and chanterelles were all the rage—and Connie has never looked back.

“Finding things”

It seems that foraging was in Connie’s blood. “I grew up around an Ice Age spring in Florida,” Connie told Organic Connections. “Florida is pretty famous for a lot of fossils. I grew up finding fossils all over that area and knew the joy of discovering things on the ground, and that little treasure hunt.”

Foraging for food was also not new to her. “On my family’s farm in Florida, there were just always edible items that didn’t come from the farm but came from the wilder country all around: sassafras, wild grapes and poke salad—things like that. It was part of the reality of life. Today foraging is very fashionable, but it’s nothing new. This activity has been integral to human life for a very long time and was certainly a part of my family.”

But her passion for hunting wild mushrooms developed when Connie got married. “My late husband was from Estonia,” she continued. “As with many Eastern Europeans he had a love of hunting wild mushrooms—it’s kind of like a religion. So it was from him that I learned about picking them.”

Oversupply leads to market

Connie didn’t start out with the idea of creating a business from wild mushrooms, but she suddenly discovered that she had far too many of them for her own culinary use and consumption. “I fell in love with foraging and became very, very good at it,” she said. “I was soon finding more than I could possibly eat, and so in the late 1970s I began taking them to some shops and restaurants.”

However, in calling on chefs who she thought would certainly want to purchase her mushrooms, she discovered she was dealing with an uneducated group. “Somewhat to my horror, I found they didn’t really know what they were,” Connie related. “They’d heard of them in French cookbooks, yet weren’t really familiar with them.”

But Connie knew who had heard of them, and that was where she expended her initial effort. It paid off. “At that point I went directly for the French guys and for a lot of Europeans. They were cooking here in the Bay Area, and they of course knew what wild mushrooms were.”