Chef Carlo Gislimberti turns Taos County fungi into culinary gold

Chef Carlo Gislimberti turns Taos County fungi into culinary

Chandra Johnson, The Taos News, Sunday, October 9, 2011 12:00 am

Magic mushrooms

Chef Carlo Gislimberti speaks to the crowd gathered for his mushroom cooking
demonstration Aug. 27.


All the women love Chef Carlo.

Setting up a makeshift kitchen in Red River’s Golden Eagle Lodge, Carlo
Gislimberti is preparing a cooking demonstration for the New Mexico Mycological
Society’s annual foray Aug. 27, using his favorite ingredients: Wild, freshly
picked mushrooms.

But Gislimberti is constantly being interrupted by a steady rotation of
admirers, friends and women, all smiling absently under the spell of
Gislimberti’s smooth English with just a flourish of Italian accent. He
practically has to shoo them away to be ready in time.

“She likes to have a taste of everything,” Gislimberti jokes after a female
acquaintance kisses him on both cheeks — then the lips.

They might love Gislimberti’s infectious company and lively showmanship in
the kitchen, but they stay for the food. As little as 16 years ago, the
delectable concoctions bubbling away on Chef Carlo Gislimberti’s stove would
have been illegal according to the state of New Mexico.

Rather than ship in mushrooms or cook something else, Gislimberti spearheaded
a program that allows him to identify, select, prepare and sell wild local
mushrooms. He is still the only person in New Mexico licensed to do so.

It might seem like a lot of work for just mushrooms, but Gislimberti elevates
the fungi to new heights, unfolding flavors and creating intricate layers in
sauces, soups, ravioli filling — even sorbet.

“You don’t have to have tenderloin or lobster to have a good meal,”
Gislimberti says. “Mushrooms can do all that.”

There are innumerable species of mushrooms, but for Gislimberti, porcini is
king. He grew up picking them in his native Italy, where the mushroom is
considered a staple, vastly eclipsing the rest of Europe’s fascination with the
almighty chanterelle.

“Chanterelle is favored in Germany because it’s among the few mushrooms that
don’t have maggots,” Gislimberti says while adding porcinis to a saucepan. “It’s
vice-versa with Italians. We’ll eat anything.”

That’s saying a lot, considering Gislimberti made his name on mushrooms. The
wild, local fungi from the mountains of Northern New Mexico were the specialty
of the house at Gislimberti’s hugely successful Taos restaurant, Villa

That specialty made Gislimberti a favorite among mycologists and mushroom
hunters all over the state and Villa Fontana used to close whenever the society
was in town for private, multi-course meals using the day’s take of mushrooms.
The mycologists still talk dreamily about the chanterelle sorbet, with its
subtle spice and apricot flavor.

“I had no limits and they loved it,” Gislimberti says of the recipe. “They
always remember that one.”

The restaurant closed its doors in 2005, after Gislimberti underwent a
triple-angioplasty operation and spent time in India. These days, Gislimberti is
an accomplished fine artist enjoying the Santa Fe scene. At 66, it’s a move he’s
been longing to make since childhood.

Born in 1945 in the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy, Gislimberti grew up
wanting to be an artist, but reality dashed his hopes when he was 13 and his
father died. Knowing he would have to work to support his family and himself,
Gislimberti opted to turn his canvas into a dinner plate.

It paid off. Gislimberti’s career is studded with accolades, including a
knighthood from former Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro in 1999 for
carrying on the tradition of Italian gastronomy. He describes his cooking style
as “Italian soul food,” and thumbs his nose at the trumped-up food that has
developed such a following.

“We don’t do sushi. My cooking is not like today — everything’s raw,”
Gislimberti says. “They don’t allow time for the ingredients to enrich flavor.
You have to be patient. But, no. They all want to go home.”

Today’s menu is a perfect example. Mushroom soup, porcini risotto and porcini
and bacon with papadelle pasta — these take a lot of time to prepare and mature
the right flavors.

And of course, Gislimberti is always ready to climb the highest mountain for
quality. He scoffs at the idea of getting market mushrooms with porcinis growing
in his back yard.

“Cultivated mushrooms don’t even compare. Mother Nature knows that!”
Gislimberti says. “Fine dining will never die, but mediocre food will.”


© 2011 The Taos News. All rights reserved.


Chanterelle Sorbet

4 cups water

2 cups sugar

1 cup chanterelle mushrooms, pureed

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Start by making a simple syrup by mixing the water and sugar in a saucepan.
Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Once cool, combine the mushrooms,
syrup and lemon juice in a blender. Pour into ice cream machine and mix. Serve