Our interview with Xavier Pellicer – renowned Spanish chef, restaurant owner, and lover of mushrooms.

Chef Xavier Pellicer in his kitchen.

At Incredible Mushrooms, we’re really excited to have had the opportunity to talk with Xavier Pellicer about cooking with mushrooms. 

Xavier is a world-renowned chef, and founder of two restaurants in Barcelona, Spain -  “Xavier Pellicer” and “El Menjador”. Both are recognized with awards from the We're Smart Green Guide. 

His philosophy is healthy cooking with organic vegetables, but Xavi also loves mushrooms in his dishes. The ones that arrive at his restaurant are authentic gems collected in the Catalan Pyrenees. 

If you’re not from Spain, some of these mushrooms may be new to you. But they all sound delicious!

Let’s get started with the interview.

And to keep things simple... we'll abbreviate with IM for Incredible Mushrooms and XP for Xavier Pellicer.

IM: In Catalonia, you’re near the Pyrenees. We understand this a rich area for collecting wild mushrooms. How did your connection with mushrooms in your cooking begin? Are you a mushroom hunter or were you one in your childhood?

XP: I had the privilege to work with Santi Santamaria at Racó de Can Fabes for 7 years, in Montseny. 

Many mushrooms grow in this area. For me, it was a huge discovery, the number of edibles that there are. 

I was very lucky because Santi, in his day, wrote some books on Mycology and recovered the Black Trumpet in the restaurants and put it to use as an edible, which already was, but its name and color weren’t much appreciated, and through the Catalan peasant farmers, he soaked up the knowledge of the people who had that contact with the forest and he transferred it to the restaurant. 

So, since I was a little boy in the Aragonese Pyrenees, I went to look for mushrooms. I liked it very much, and here in Can Fabes, I reconnected to the fullest with this world that I’m passionate about. 

IM: Which wild mushrooms are your favorites, and why? And how do you prepare them?

XP: Here are a few I really love.

St. George's mushroom, Weeping Bolete, Chanterelles, Cowboy's Handkerchief, Wood Blewit.Several of the mushrooms used in Xavier’s kitchens, including: St. George's mushroom, Weeping Bolete, Chanterelles, Cowboy's Handkerchief, Wood Blewit.

Caesar's Mushroom

I’m crazy about Caesar's mushroom, it’s the finest one. I like it very much when it’s closed because that’s its best time. It’s called ou de reig in Catalonia because it looks like an egg, has a white sponge layer and a reddish-orange head, and the important thing is not to confuse it with the Muscaria which has white dots and is absolutely poisonous and lethal.

Its white sponge layer isn’t eaten, we have tried it but it’s not interesting. What I always do is to peel Caesar's mushroom because its orange skin is quite bitter, it’s quite easy to peel, you take out a tip and the skin comes out by itself, then the mushroom tastes better and has no bitterness.

It’s very delicate and has a very sweet perfume.

Here is an example of a really large Caesar's Mushroom.

Chef Xavier Pellicer holding a large Caesar's Mushroom.

I grilled it with dates and with garlic confit. It’s a delight! At 700 grams it’s a huge specimen. No bugs, smooth, big and hard... A real treat!

Goat's Foot Mushroom

Also, I like Goat’s Foot mushroom a lot. It grows on a tree trunk, has a brown wrinkled head, some cavities, and a foot that may be yellowish-white, and when the mushroom ages, gets yellow. 

It’s fantastic for carpaccio, the same happens with Caesar's mushrooms, they’re great and easy to digest when raw. They’re also good sautéed or baked.

Matsutake Mushroom

Another mushroom is the Matsutake which is very appreciated in Japan but also you can find it in the Montseny.

It has a lot of perfume, powerful umami, and is used especially in broths because it flavors a lot if you cut it very thin. It’s expensive because there are very few. 

Morchella Mushroom

And if we talk about spring, for me, the queen is the Morchella, has a honeycomb shape, and is really good. You can stew them or you can stuff them.

They can’t be eaten raw because they’re toxic. You should always blanche them first, then steam them. They're excellent.

Saffron Milk Cap Mushroom

Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms in a basket, ready for cleaning.Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms in a basket, ready for cleaning.

The same with the Saffron Milk Cap that is so much enjoyed here. From areas of fir and pine, the pine mushrooms have an aroma like resin. It’s multi-faceted in the kitchen, when charcoal-grilled is spectacular and when first sautéed, it’s delicious.

Cowboy's Handkerchief and Gray Almond Waxy Cap.

Another mushroom that I am passionate about is called the Cowboy's Handkerchief or Gray Almond Waxy Cap. It’s like jelly, like slime and is spectacular in pil-pil, and has a very particular aroma. It’s a white meaty mushroom, its cap can be either yellow or gray, turning black, it captivates a lot.

Black Trumpet Mushroom

As I mentioned earlier the Black Trumpet is very good. It’s very traditional in Catalan cuisine for stews such as fricandós, and is widely used.  

IM: We know that you love to clean mushrooms yourself because you connect with the heart of the product, How do you clean them? 

XP: The most important thing to preserve it is to keep the aroma and don't lose its personality. 

I advise not to rinse them in water, it would only be for imperative need because the mushroom came too dirty from the field. First, remove the base, this is where there’s more dirt, and with a brush, a paintbrush, or a slightly damp cloth you finish cleaning the mushroom.

IM: What do you recommend when buying mushrooms?

XP: The faster you can prepare and eat them, the better. Don’t let more than 48 hours pass.

IM: You’ve heard how people, especially millennials, in times of coronavirus, have reduced meat consumption and are using mushrooms as a substitute. Regarding this, what mushrooms do you recommend as the best meat substitutes?

XP: If we want to have mushrooms all year round, it would be the opposite of the wild mushrooms we’ve been talking about. 

In Catalonia, some people work on the cultivation of organic mushrooms, and curiously, we are now developing a mushroom burger.

The best-known mushrooms with this good vibe are Shiitakes, Maitakes, Oyster mushroom and White mushroom.

IM: Xavier, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, and for sharing these wonderful photos!

XP: I'm always happy to talk about mushrooms. I enjoyed our conversation!


Notes:

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

All photos courtesy of Xavier Pellicer, with thanks.

Xavier Pellicer's Restaurants:

Xavier Pellicer

El Menjador


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