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Day 5: Foraging For Mushrooms with MAW

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With mushroom guru Ray LaSala

© Courtesy of Tom Colicchio
With mushroom guru Ray LaSala

Editor's note: Tom Colicchio, the head judge on Bravo's Top Chef (and a Food & Wine Best New Chef 1991), will be blogging every day this week about his road trip from Atlanta.

On our way up from the Chesapeake Bay to Washington DC, we were relieved to see rain give way to clear skies. A few days earlier we had cold-called Ray LaSala, the president of the Mycological Association of Washington DC (or MAW, to those on the know), asking if he would take us out foraging for mushrooms when we were in the area. We were now on our way to meet Ray at a regional park south of DC and spend a couple of hours scanning the forest floor for fungi.

I love mushrooms. Since day one my menus at Craft and Craftsteak have included not just one but several different seasonal varieties of roasted mushroom as side dishes, from Hen of the Woods to Chanterelles to Trompette Royals and Bluefoots, to name just a few.

When we met Ray and his three fellow MAW members, all were concerned that we might not have much luck foraging at this time of year. As it turned out, they were right; the only edible fungi that we were able to find that day were a few honey mushrooms. Regardless, we were all glad to stretch our legs and work off at least a little bit of the previous night's dinner. Another bonus was the chance discovery of my first wild paw paw tree, which bears a fruit that tastes a lot like a banana and but grows right in the Mid-Atlantic.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Already looking forward to next year (June 19-21, 2015)? Relive your favorite moments from the culinary world's most sensational weekend in the Rocky Mountains.