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.