by Tanya Henry
“Everyone has that hunter-gatherer instinct,” says Kevin Sadlier, who has been foraging for wild mushrooms for nearly 20 years. But before he began chasing morels, Sadlier was a chef at the Pier House Restaurant in Key West, Florida in the ’80s.
Sadlier then moved to California and began managing Sloat Garden Center in San Francisco. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to open his own nursery and earn a better living. In 1997 he moved to Marin and opened Green Jeans Garden Supply on Redwood Highway in Mill Valley. Eighteen years later, Sadlier and his wife Xander Wessells run the business and employ between 6 and 10 people.
It’s obvious from Sadlier’s inviting and beautifully designed roadside nursery that he’s committed to his work. But get him talking about mushrooms, and it’s clear that that is where his heart is.
“I pick year-round,” says the enthusiastic forager, who will travel to Colorado in August during monsoon season and search for porcinis, Idaho and Montana in the spring for morels and Oregon in September and October for matsutakes, lion’s mane, porcinis and golden, blue and white chanterelles. From late fall to spring, Sadlier stays closer to home (the Sierras), and almost all of his carefully planned hunts take place on privately owned land where property owners allow him access.
“Foraging used to be elitist—kind of like golf,” he says, acknowledging that it has become much more mainstream. But it’s not just the hunt that offers the thrill for Sadlier—it’s the entire process. He does his research, studies maps, interprets the environment (weather, trees, rain, fire, etc.) and then sets out.
Sadlier, who sells his fungi at his nursery, prides himself on cleaning the mushrooms that he finds in the field. He uses an Italian-made mushroom knife to clean the dirt off and carries the mushrooms in paper or cloth bags to allow them to breathe. He picks as many as he can find (generally between 30 and 40 pounds), leaving none behind. “I’m greedy,” he says. “If someone wants the same mushrooms I find, they should get there before me.”
Over the years, Sadlier has developed relationships with select local chefs—Bruce Hill and Jared Rogers from Picco and Molina’s Todd Shoberg—who look to him for his fresh hauls of porcinis, morels and chanterelles.
Don’t be surprised if the next wild mushrooms enjoyed at a favorite local restaurant were expertly foraged, cleaned, transported for miles and delivered to the chef by none other than Kevin Sadlier.
When Sadlier is not foraging for culinary mushrooms, he can be found at Green Jeans Garden Supply, 690 Redwood Highway, Mill Valley; 415/389-8333; greenjeansgardensupply.com.