CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Truffle in the Kitchen: A Cook’s Guide

By Jack Czarnecki
2019; Oregon Truffle Oil
ISBN-13 : 978-0578627755; ISBN-10: 0578627752
Paperback, 92 pp; 8.27 x 0.25 x 11.69 inches

“No food has quite the allure and mystery of the truffle. For years, professional chefs have been wowing their guests with the complex flavors and intoxicating aromas yet home chefs hesitate to take the plunge. Truffle in the Kitchen not only guides you through the many uses of the culinary truffle but goes deep into the lore and science that makes the truffle so fun to use and enjoy. Jack shares with you everything he’s learned over his lauded career foraging for truffles, using them in his restaurants and making truffle products. Jack once again wants to take you on a culinary journey with humor and insight. Explore the fun and aromatic world of the truffle!” #is from the jacket of the brand new book by the legendary guru of truffles, Jack Czarnecki. Czarnecki is a noted wild mushroom cooking authority and award-winning cookbook author (1996 James Beard Award for A Cook’s Book of Mushrooms).  

Czarnecki is best known on the West Coast, but got his start out East where he ran Joe’s Restaurant for 22 years in Reading, Pennsylvania. When he acquired the restaurant it was little more than a watering hole. Indeed, Joe’s Tavern was just that, started decades earlier by Jack’s grandfather Joseph and then kept in the family by Jack’s father. Jack decided to turn the place into a bonafide eatery. His passion for wild and commercial mushrooms (the majority of the button mushroom industry is located just east of Reading) and creativity with them in the kitchen made Joe’s famous. And led to Czarnecki’s wildly popular first book, Joe’s Book of Mushroom Cookery. Mycophiles and chefs alike, raved that it was “one of the most important and unusual cookbooks to be published in years,” “As a lifelong mushroom hunter and cook, I can truly vouch that this is the most interesting book written on the subject,” and “At last we have a book that demystifies wild mushrooms and that shows us the wonderful ways to cook them.” Another book was to follow. In A Cook’s Book of Mushrooms, Czarnecki gives an account of his life-long fascination with mushrooms— hunting them, cooking them, and eating them. He describes the characteristics of the principal edible mushrooms and provides many recipes for both the widely available “wild” mushrooms as well as the more exotic varieties.  

 Jack and his wife, Heidi, next moved to Oregon and opened "The Joel Palmer House Restaurant" in 1997. Once again, Jack’s culinary skill brought in the clientele. (Incidentally, Joel Palmer was one of Oregon’s preeminent pioneers who left Indiana in 1845 to make his long way West. He cofounded the town of Dayton in 1848 and built a home in 1857—the very home that was transformed into the current Joel Palmer House restaurant. Jack’s son Christopher, a 4th generation chef in the family now handles operations.)  

It was not long after arriving in Oregon that Czarnecki discovered truffles… Within a year, Jack learned from his friends how to harvest local truffles which he began to use in his restaurant, along with many other wild mushrooms. This was a whole new world to him and opened yet another chapter in his already storied career. A chapter he’s been working on since and which has culminated in this wonderful new book. But beyond the story of how he got to where he is, Truffle in the Kitchen teaches much of what Jack’s learned about truffles all along the way— and much of the information did not come easily. Truffles are so different from other mushrooms … indeed from all other life forms. Fascinating life cycles, chemistries, and symbioses with their tree hosts and animal spore vectors. And their enticing aroma…  

And now for a more personal note about Jack Czarnecki. He is the nicest, most generous person you will ever encounter. And the greatest educator and evangelizer for North American truffles—long relegated to second class status after their far more famous European cousins (the Perigord black and the Alba white truffles of France and Italy, respectively). Jack impressed on us all, one person at a time, that this is not so. Fresh fully ripe Oregon truffles are absolutely outstanding in their own right. He is the indefatigable educator of all things truffle. Over a wonderful lunch of cold cuts and cheese (and truffles, naturally), served in his kitchen; explaining how natural truffle oil is made (right there in his garage when he was just getting started in his new venture); or over a world class dinner at the Joel Palmer House. Constantly wanting to talk about, boast, brag, educate, and evangelize about truffles. But my most memorable time spent with Jack was in 2014. We took a drive out into the country. Suddenly, he pulled off the road and parked the car in front of a gate that led into an expansive pasture. A herd of angus stopped grazing to watch as interlopers, truffle rakes in hand, made their way towards a copse of trees in the middle of the pasture. #e middle aged Douglas-fir plantation looked like the last place you’d expect to find truffles, or any mushrooms for that matter. Indeed, standing among the rows of identical trees, and looking far into the distance in every direction, there was not a mushroom to be seen. Jack knew I was about to question his judgement when he motioned to a small hole in the forest floor … then another and another. Small mammals had been digging, squirrels maybe. A sign that we were among truffles, for the person with the ability to read such signs. A lifetime of learning was now being passed on to me. He began raking and in less than a minute a golf ball-sized white truffle popped out. #en another. And another. And it was like that for an hour or two. After about an hour, I noted that where the duff had previously been raked—maybe weeks or months ago—is where I had the best luck at finding truffles. Jack agreed and said, without doubt, this was where the truffle liked to fruit best, the disturbed areas. I knew then that I had so much more to learn about those enigmatic truffles. And I also knew that I was standing in the midst of the person who probably knew more about them than any other.

— Review by Britt Bunyard
— Originally published in Fungi