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In his mid-30s, Malcolm Clark of Occidental found himself at a crossroads.

The Scottish-born biologist had carved out a comfortable career teaching at the University of Toronto and directing a biology lab.

Through the study of judo, however, he had crossed paths with Tsuneto Yoshii, an innovative Japanese mycologist who invited Clark to carry on his work cultivating mushrooms for medicinal and culinary use.

"There was a little mountain behind his institute in Japan," said Clark, who is turning 72 in June. "I sat on top of a rock and thought, "Do I give up my occupation, my fat paycheck, my future?"

In 1977, Clark made up his mind. He sold his home in Toronto and bought an abandoned chicken farm in Sebastopol, partnering with David Law to form a specialty mushroom cultivation company, Gourmet Mushrooms Inc.

Like artisan cheesemaker Laura Chenel and other early food pioneers, his fledgling company went on to become one of Sonoma County's most iconic brands, providing a steady supply of exotic fungi to chefs across the country.

"We built an audience and a market," Clark said. "We were the first, and while that sounds wonderful, it was also very difficult."

Over the years, the indoor mushroom farm attracted such well-known chefs as Jacques Pepin and Julia Child. Chef/owner Alice Waters of Berkeley's Chez Panisse was an early supporter.

Now, almost 40 years later, Clark has written his first book, "The Marriage of Mushrooms and Garlic," with the help of Sonoma County's garlic guru, Chester Aaron.

Half cookbook and half anecdotal tales, the project grew out of a deep friendship between the two west county residents.

In the book, Aaron pays tribute to his Eastern European parents while shining a light on his friend's mushroom expertise.

"I wanted to give thanks to my mother's cooking, and my father's mythology about the benefits of garlic," said Aaron, 91. "Malcolm is committed to mushrooms in the way that my father was committed to garlic."

For Clark, the book was a chance tell the story of how he scoured some of the world's most remote forests in search of fabulous fungi, such as the baby blue oyster mushroom he found in Bali.

"I wanted to inform the home cook how that mushroom ended up on that plate," he said. "From finding it in the forest, recognizing it as an edible mushroom, bringing it out of the jungle, taking tissue culture, taking it to the lab, and taking the mycelium and developing a cultivation method."

While studying in Japan on and off for 30 years, Clark learned how to grow mushrooms in sterilized, organic sawdust packed into recyclable bottles.

While Dr. Yoshii helped him with that technology, Clark had to adapt that knowledge to the North Coast's unique weather and substrates.

"My biology knowledge really melded with his mycological science," Clark said. "It was like going into the kitchen with a great chef."

Clark was also an early pioneer in Sonoma County's restaurant scene, opening Truffles restaurant in Sebastopol from 1987 to 1989.

"By 1989, we had a lot of wineries coming in," he said. "We were doing a lot of Pacific Rim food, which was a new flavor for people."

In his book, Clark pulls together all kinds of mushroom and garlic recipes from friends, including his partner, Surachet "Pic" Sangsana, and Suzanne Adams of Sonoma.

The shiitake, the first mushroom Clark cultivated, is still his favorite in terms of flavor, versatility and health benefits.

"Now, there's a drug made from the shiitake mushroom (the FDA-approved Lentinam) that's a non-invasive adjunct to chemotherapy," he said.

The book concludes with Clark's search for Cordyceps sinensis, a rare fungus found high in the Himalayas of Nepal. That tale inspired his family to call him the Indiana Jones of Mushrooms.

Since selling his share of Gourmet Mushrooms five years ago, Clark has divided his time between Chiang Mai, Thailand, and his residence on a remote ridge overlooking the ocean in Occidental.

There, he nurtures a large collection of orchids and grows Meyer lemons. In a few months, Clark plans to launch a new project: an organic limoncello liqueur.

"It's the spirit of Sonoma County to do these things — the cheeses, the wines, the mushrooms, the fruit," he said. "There's no better place in the world."


The following recipes are from "The Marriage of Mushrooms and Garlic" by Chester Aaron and Malcolm Clark, which was published in 2013 by Zumaya Publications. It is available on amazon.com. The recommended brand of Thai chile paste is Pantainorasign.

<b>Trumpet Royal Mushrooms with Sweet Thai Chile Paste</b>

Makes 6 servings as side dish

<i>2 pounds trumpet mushrooms, sliced to 1/4-inch thick

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons sweet Thai chile paste

— Pinch of salt and black pepper</i>

Heat the oil in the pan. Stir-fry the mushrooms over high heat for 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add sweet Thai chile paste, salt and black pepper. Stir well to combine all ingredients, cook about 3 minutes, stir in fresh basil, remove from heat and serve.


"A subtle blend of spicy hot and sour with citrus overtones, Tom Yum Goong is the most famous of Thai soups. Each region has its own particular variation of the recipe."

<b>Hot and Sour Soup with Mushrooms and Prawns</b>

Makes 4 servings

<i>8 ounces prawns (or shrimp), shelled and deveined, with shells reserved

3 cups water

5 keffir lime leaves

3 thin slices fresh galangal

2 stalks lemongrass, lower two-third potion, cut into 1-inch lengths

1/4 cup fish sauce

1 cup sliced clamshell mushrooms

1 teaspoon chopped fresh Thai chili

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro</i>

Take the prawn shells, lime leaves, galangal, fish sauce, lemongrass and place them in a pot with water. Heat to boiling for 5 minutes then strain the broth.

Place the broth in the pot; add mushrooms and boil for 3 minutes.

Add the prawns to the soup, and reheat to a gentle boil. When the prawns are cooked, place the lime juice and chili in a serving bowl, stir, garnish with cilantro, and serve.


"This is a Hokkaido-style salmon, adapted by Pic (Surachet Sangsana). This dish contains the authentic flavors of Japan. It is delicious and easy to prepare with a tantalizing presentation."

<b>Miso Salmon with Clamshell Mushrooms</b>

Makes 6 servings

<i>1 cup white miso paste

1 cup white sugar

3 tablespoons sake (or white wine, Madeira, sherry)

12-pound fillet of salmon (or Steelhead trout)

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh garlic

1 pound fresh clamshell mushrooms

1/8 teaspoon black ground pepper

1 tablespoon soy sauce

3 tablespoons cooking oil</i>

Mix miso paste, sugar and sake, and set aside.

Pat dry and place salmon on baking pan. Spread a thin layer (about 1/8-inch) of the miso paste mix to cover the salmon.

Bake the salmon at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Switch to broil for 5 minutes to brown it.

Heat the skillet and cook the garlic in oil on medium heat. Stir in the mushrooms, cook for 5 minutes. Add soy sauce and black pepper.

Serve the salmon with mushrooms on the side.

<i>You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.</i>

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