Our interview with Frank Fol… renowned Belgian chef, host of Z-Mastercooks, founder of Green Guide, and lover of mushrooms.

Frank Fol mushroom chef

At Incredible Mushrooms, we’re really excited to have had the opportunity to talk with Frank Fol about cooking with mushrooms in Belgium.

Vegetables and mushrooms are one world for Frank Fol. He is often referred to as "the vegetables chef", and has developed 51 cooking techniques that can be used with both vegetables and mushrooms. 

Frank is a mushroom enthusiast who has been working since the late 1980s to sing their praises in Belgium.

While many people equate Belgium primarily with its chocolates or beers, it is also famous for the high quality of its vegetables and mushrooms. 

In Belgium, the most consumed mushroom for people is the Paris mushrooms… known elsewhere in the world as the White or Button mushroom. They’re easy to cook, good to eat and widely available in most food stores.

Frank is the founder of the We're Smart Green Guide, and travels looking for "the best vegetable restaurants in the world" that are also sustainable and environmentally friendly. 

He is also the host of Z-Mastercooks, the most watched TV program in Z channel. 

To keep things simple... we'll abbreviate with IM for Incredible Mushrooms and FF for Frank Fol.

Let’s go with the interview.

IM: Belgium is the country of vegetables. What about mushrooms?

FF: I think the mushroom has its place like all other vegetables in Belgium. We are also very lucky to have a lot of wild mushrooms. 

In Belgium and in the Netherlands, there are a lot of companies that are growing mushrooms in different ways. There's the classic Paris mushroom, but you also see a lot of sustainable approaches in Belgium, like growing mushrooms using coffee grounds, and growing vegetables in cellars in Brussels. 

IM: That’s interesting. What are some typical mushroom dishes in Belgium? 

FF: I think a classic you can find from French cuisine is the Archiduc. It’s a sauce with cream and Paris mushroom. 

I have a lot of recipes with mushrooms. I make a mushroom soup with onion, and I cook whole big mushrooms inside. It’s a dish with three large mushrooms and a little bit of argan oil, and some cress… and it's delicious! I can send you that recipe if you want. [Frank's recipe is here...]

IM: Yes please, that would be amazing. We'll share it with our readers. How did your story with mushrooms in your cooking begin? Did anything funny happen to you on this adventure?

FF:  When I was younger and I was learning, I used to go foraging with a mushroom expert – often on private property - because he knew all the best places to find mushrooms. Two sorts of mushrooms we tried to find were Girolle and Porcini. I remember it being a bit of a rush, because we didn’t want the landowners to catch us foraging in their woods.

I also used to work helping a local farmer. A lot of wild white mushrooms grew in his fields. I’d love taking a few of those mushrooms, because they’re very tasty when they grown in the wild. 

I’m sure these outside experiences played a role in why I fell in love with wild mushrooms, and also with vegetables.

IM: What are your favorite mushrooms, and why?

FF: I love...

Porcini Mushrooms

Porcini mushrooms

I think that a lot of chefs will say they really like Porcini, because it’s a mushroom with a very strong texture, a smooth flavor and a very mushroomy taste. 

But you also have a little bit of the taste of truffle inside, so it’s something that gives a fantastic flavour when you create recipes with it.

Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake is also a mushroom that always brings more flavour to the dish. When you use it in little cubes and mix it with other ingredients, it will always add a bit of that amazing umami taste.

In a soup, Shiitake gives a very nice extra flavour. I think there’s always a way to bring out the best in every type of mushroom.

Girolle Mushrooms

Girolle, or Chanterelle mushrooms

Girolle, also known as Chanterelle, has a fantastic taste. 

Girolle is a mushroom you have to prepare very lightly. You can bake it in a little bit of oil, but not long. Add some pepper and salt on it, and that’s all you have to do. You can put it as a garnish in a dish.

Chestnut Mushrooms

I also like the Chestnuts mushroom, which is also called Castagna mushroom, or Cremini Brown. It’s not an expensive mushroom, but it’s different from the white one because when you cut the white one, it becomes black, and this one doesn’t take another color. 

It’s easy to work with. You can cut it before, and the color won’t change.

I like it a lot in carpaccio or raw in a salad. It gives a really nice taste, a little bit like nuts. Also, as I said, it stays beautiful and it is a little bit crispy because it has a good texture.

IM: What is your favorite combination with vegetables?

FF: Yeah, I think you see this done well with Asian cuisine. They use a wok with different sorts of mushrooms and spring onions, and that's fantastic! Maybe a little bit of garlic, and you don't need more! The taste of vegetables is bumped up and it is very full and flavourful.

IM: Frank, you travel the world looking for the best vegetable restaurants, what innovations do you see that are being made with mushrooms in restaurant kitchens?

FF: One of the most delicious mushroom dishes I ever ate was in the Xavier Pellicer restaurant, and he uses one of the mushrooms coming from the South of Europe. I don't remember the name. 

He puts just a little bit of olive oil on the baking plate - just long enough to warm it up - and then he put it on the dish with some salt and some herb oil. It’s very simple, but it’s so tasteful, so fantastic! 

IM: Yes, we were talking with Xavier. He is great! At your restaurant Sire Pynnock, you developed 51 techniques for cooking vegetables, what are the most important techniques you have created for using mushrooms?

FF: You can do a lot of things. You can pan-fry or stir fry, you can do a carpaccio, you can dry it, and make a powder of it. 

You can ferment it, you can make an emulsion of it, you can deep fry it. 

You can make ice cream, you can inject to fish or meat, a sauce of mushroom. You can make caviar of it, you can just cook it, you can make marmalade of it, you can make a chutney, make a mousse. 

You can even put the mushroom powder inside of pasta when you make spaghetti yourself. You can use it in a blinis and crêpes, or in a pancake. 

You can put mushrooms inside of fish, or make a puree of it. You can make it in vacuum cooking, in a Teppanyaki, roll, risotto. 

You can smoke it, you can roast it, you can make a sauce, a foam. You can mix it in mashed potato. 

You can steam it, you can make cakes, you can make tartar, tempura, in vinaigrettes, you can pickle it, and you can make soup. 

So, there are endless possibilities with mushrooms to cook. You can see more details on my website.

IM: Wow... that's an incredible list! You're definitely a mushroom lover. Thank you, Frank, it was great talking with you! 

FF:  Same here! Thank you so much! I loved this conversation about mushrooms. 

Notes:

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Portrait photo courtesy of  Wim Demessemaekers, Soul Food Photographer - "Wild Cooking".

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