It all started with a shiitake mushroom fascination. At the time, Morgan Proctor and Greg Olson both had administrative positions in urban offices and were living in a small space in Oakland with no outdoor area for plants.
Given their shared interests in nature, nutrition, and gardening, and after being wait-listed at a community garden, they decided to try a shiitake mushroom grow-at-home kit.The two describe being entranced by the way the mushrooms sprouted overnight: “It was as if you could sit and watch them unfurling their caps.”
The complex biology of mushrooms fascinated them, and the flavor of their homegrown mushrooms was incredible. Admitted neat freaks, Morgan and Greg found they enjoyed the precise, technical, hands-on work of growing gourmet mushrooms. “Cultivation demands a level of cleanliness and organization that we appreciate.”
Timing is Everything
The burgeoning culinary entrepreneurs were drawn to the idea of building their own mushroom business because they simply wanted to work together. “We share an approach to work that we knew would make us good business partners,” they explain.
The name Top Cap Mushrooms is a cute nod to a tiny-but-mighty mushroom on heavy rotation in their home kitchen, one that can stand up to (or even replace) red meat. “We always imagine one of our little pioppino mushrooms wearing a top hat when we think of the name,” Morgan says.
A move to Concord allowed Greg and Morgan to build a space where they could develop their growing techniques and experiment with varieties they enjoy cultivating and eating, as well as ones that thrive in their space. In 2016, the duo started selling their mushrooms at the Diablo Valley Farmers’ Market at Shadelands in Walnut Creek.
Morgan and Greg find that different species grow differently based on the time of year and the temperature. “While our grow rooms have insulation, climate control, and filtered air, we always strive to save as much energy as possible. We can work with nature by choosing mushroom varieties well suited to our location. This also allows us to bring in some exciting seasonal mushrooms such as our nameko in the winter and pink oyster in the summer.”
The nameko, an orange-colored specialty mushroom, is popular in Japan for use in miso soup and sushi. The pink oyster, which looks exactly like its name, turns pale orange when cooked and offers a taste slightly reminiscent of salmon. It stands up well in recipes with longer cooking times, such as simmered sauces and risotto.
Since mushroom varieties grow at different rates, Morgan and Greg try to time what they cultivate to match demand from their farmers’ market customers or to fulfill special orders from private chefs and restaurants. They describe how mushrooms are grown in two stages starting from “seeds” or spawn, which is used to create blocks of mycelium that will fruit mushrooms.
“Some of our species, like the lion’s mane and shiitake, are very fast growing, reaching full growth in less than a month. Others take several months from spawn to mushrooms.”
Farmers’ Market Favorites
Freshness matters with mushrooms, so Greg and Morgan harvest right before selling, and they try to ensure that all customers, even those who arrive late to market, have a good selection. But beware! Top Cap’s lion’s mane and pioppino mushrooms often sell out first.
The lion’s mane mushrooms look like fluffy balls of hair and offer a slight taste of lobster when cooked, which makes them a nice replacement for seafood in some recipes. Or simply slice them into thick medallions, sear in butter or ghee, and garnish with fresh herbs.
Greg and Morgan are looking forward to offering more mushrooms with medicinal uses. “The reishi and turkey tail mushrooms in particular have a wealth of studies showing their benefits to good health. Also, keep an eye out for teas and extracts of these and lesser-known mushrooms.”
Find Top Cap Mushrooms year round on Saturdays at the Diablo Valley Farmers’ Market and Sundays at the Moraga Farmers’ Market. Morgan and Greg always try to provide the most immaculate mushrooms possible, so it’s not necessary to wash them. Just a dust or a puff will have them ready for cooking! topcapmushrooms.com
Walnut Creek–based photographer, food stylist, and recipe developer Rezel Kealoha focuses her cooking on seasonal California produce. Her recipes are inspired by her time living in the Philippines, Japan, Australia, and Singapore. RezelKealoha.com
Filipino Adobo Mushroom Medley
2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms (stems trimmed off if they seem tough)
8 ounces blue oyster mushrooms (break clusters apart)
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons coconut aminos (Bragg Liquid Aminos or soy sauce can substitute, but the coconut aminos offer a unique taste.)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil into a large skillet and place over medium to high heat. Add all the mushrooms and bay leaves to the pan. Sauté for about 1 minute, flip the mushrooms, and then sauté for another minute. Reduce temperature to medium-low and cover the skillet to steam the mushrooms for 3 minutes. Remove and set aside the mushrooms, but retain any liquid accumulated in the pan.
To make the adobo sauce, add remaining olive oil, coconut aminos, apple cider vinegar, and sliced garlic to the hot pan and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium-high, return mushrooms to the pan, and cook for 3 minutes while turning the mushrooms in the adobo sauce. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper. Serve over rice or noodles.
Herby Lion’s Mane Farmers’ Market Tacos
For the plates:
2–3 tablespoons plain hummus (or garlic and chive flavor, if you can find it)
2–3 tablespoons pickled ginger
Handful of baby arugula
Handful of fresh herbs (parsley, mint, and chives make a good combination)
For the mushroom topping:
10–16 ounces lion’s mane mushrooms, cut into thick slices
2 tablespoons ghee
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Prep the tortillas by passing them through the open flame of your stove or heating on a skillet. Place two tortillas on each plate and top with the hummus, pickled ginger, arugula, and fresh herbs. Set aside and keep near the stove.
In a large skillet, melt the ghee on medium-high heat. Add sliced mushrooms and sauté on each side for about a minute and a half or until golden brown. Turn down the heat to low and add the chopped chives and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Distribute the mushrooms in equal amounts on each tortilla. Squeeze some lime over top and enjoy.
Japanese Vegan Hot Pot
Hot pot is a great way to entertain a group on a cold winter’s night. If you are unfamiliar with the tradition, here’s how it’s done:
Each guest at the table has a small soup bowl set on a plate with chopsticks, soupspoon, and small tongs on the side, and dipping bowls for the two sauces set above the plate. One soup ladle is used to serve broth into the bowls, but each guest uses their own tongs to retrieve mushrooms, veggies, and noodles from the hot pot at any time during the meal. The veggies and the noodles can be placed either on the plate or in the bowl, depending on whether diners want to eat the meal as a soup or just want to dip into the sauces directly. Guests often switch eating methods during the meal.
Hot green or jasmine tea is the perfect complement to the meal, but sake is great, too, and will make for a very entertaining interactive meal.
Find many of these ingredients at Asian markets.
For the broth:
4 cups water
1 4-inch piece kombu (a type of kelp)
2 tablespoons kelp flakes
For the hot pot:
1 bunch broccolini (chop in half if stalks are long)
2 cups sliced lotus root
16 ounces pioppino or shiitake mushrooms
1 bunch bok choy
1 bunch spinach (or about 8 ounces baby spinach)
3 cups mung bean sprouts
2 cups firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
For the table:
Precooked rice or udon noodles (frozen cooked udon can be added right into the pot)
Creamy sesame and soy with yuzu dipping sauces
Place the water, kombu, and kelp flakes in the hot pot. (If you don’t have an Asian-style hot pot with its own heat source, make this dish in a large pot on your stove and just bring the pot to the table.) Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 10 minutes for the broth flavor to develop. The kombu is a seasoning, but leave it in the broth throughout the dinner for more intense flavor.
Add broccolini and lotus root to the broth and cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, the rest of the vegetables, and the tofu. (If using frozen udon, add now, one packet at a time.) Cook an additional 5 minutes until all the veggies have softened. Turn the heat to low and serve.