Shortly after Connie’s business got underway, the culinary revolution known as California cuisine began—and Connie was right at its heart. “In the late seventies and early eighties when California cuisine (as it now tends to be called) was coming into its own, I was one of the early sources of unusual ingredients that these people could go crazy with,” she recalled. “There were the Jeremiah Towers and the Joyce Goldsteins, and so on, who became my customers as we all grew very excited about the food available in California.”

The expert eye 

Since Wine Forest first opened, Connie’s clientele has been a culinary who’s who. Why do these top chefs keep coming back to her? It’s because—well, all mushrooms aren’t equal.

“As you walk through the forest, you don’t pick everything that you see,” Connie remarked. “Many people do and they’re completely undiscriminating. We may only gather half of what’s growing. It isn’t a conservation thing—in fact, there are many benefits to the mushrooms from picking them. You’re harvesting the fruit of a fungal body that is underground, and by picking it you actually become a human vector for the fungus to help spread its spores.

“But we avoid mushrooms that are not in good condition, are too large, too small or too crappy looking. We select the mushrooms that are beautiful; something that we always have in mind is that people are going to look at, admire and eat these. We also pick them very carefully and cleanly; mushrooms picked poorly and in bad condition are very labor intensive to clean and prepare, and the texture is not as good. So it starts in the woods.”