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Monday, February 25, 2013

02/26 - North Meets South - American Chefs Embrace Australian Truffles

Winter truffles and summer produce - a delightful prospect that chefs over America are embracing with the bountiful supply of high quality Australian truffles.  Slow Living Radio welcomes some of the main players in the chain of supply of this "Black Gold" - Shane Styles, from the Wine and Truffle Company in West Australia, the largest farm in the country, Frank Brunacci, ex Aussie chef and now the major importer in the US, and Todd Spanier, King of Mushrooms, supplier of "all things fungi" to Bay Area restaurants.


The stage is set, and this week we come to you from the grand splendour of San Francisco's Grand Dame, the Fairmont Hotel, where old-world charm takes you back to times gone by.

World-renowned, The Fairmont San Francisco hotel, which opened in 1907, presents an awe-inspiring picture of historic San Francisco. The grandeur of the hotel, coupled with its reputation for impeccable service promises a truly memorable experience.  Centrally located, this luxury San Francisco hotel is a short cable car trip from the bustling Downtown, Financial District, Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf. In fact, The Fairmont San Francisco Hotel is the only spot in San Francisco where each of the City's cable car lines meet.  The Fairmont San Francisco’s Venetian Room was the venue where the legendary Tony Bennett debuted his version of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” The Fairmont has served as the San Francisco residence for U.S. presidents, world leaders and entertainment stars.

A fitting venue to welcome our esteemed truffle family, with Thomas Klein (part Australian) Regional Vice President for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts welcoming us to this city icon.

The Truffle Family: From Left,
Joe Giovannetti, General Manager, King of Mushroom, Frank Brunacci, Todd Spanier and Shane Styles

 Shane Styles

The Wine & Truffle Co is the largest producer of Superior Perigord Truffles in the southern hemisphere, with over 13,000 hazel and oak trees. The farm is located in the South-West Australian town of Manjimup on 52 hectares of picturesque, undulating land surrounded by Karri and Jarrah forests.

The Truffière (or truffle farm) was established under the expert guidance of Forestry Scientist Dr. Nick Malajczuk, who is recognised as a world authority on edible fungi.

Since the company began cultivating black truffles in 1997, their truffle production has grown exponentially from 600 kilograms in 2008 to a predicted 2.5 tonnes by the end of the upcoming season.

Truffles are mainly associated with European epicurean culture and for many centuries grew wild in certain parts of Europe, particularly in France and Italy. Their rarity and scarce availability make them a valuable and expensive delicacy, especially when bought for commercial use, as they can cost between $3,000 and $4,000 a kilo.

In Australia, cultivating truffles is a unique and challenging experience that The Wine and Truffle Company has embraced with enthusiasm and passion. Their truffles grace the tables of fine dining restaurants in Australia as well as being shipped around the world, including Germany, UK, Denmark, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, USA, Spain, Singapore and Indonesia. Truffles can be at a restaurant in the USA within 2 days of being harvested at the Manjimup truffière!

Being also a producer of
premium fine wines and the largest cultivator of the gourmet Superior Perigord truffle in the southern hemisphere, The Wine and Truffle Company is one of the main tourist attractions in the Manjimup region. It is also one of the few Truffières in the world where you can participate in the excitement of a guided truffle hunt and you can discover how to locate the rare and wondrous black truffle, which is often referred to as ‘black gold’ or ‘black diamond’.

Frank Brunacci
Owner, Chef
The Chefs Diamond
Purveyor and Importer of Year Round Truffles

Executive Chef Frank Brunacci's last official chef's appointment was at Trump International Hotel & Tower, Chicago, after cooking in some of the world’s most distinguished kitchens. With a modern American approach at the heart of his cooking philosophy—which unifies traditional European and Asian classic cooking techniques, Chef Brunacci oversaw all areas of the property’s culinary programs: its fine dining restaurant, Sixteen; its chic lounge, Rebar; room service and banquets.

The Australian native has lived, traveled and worked all over the world. The learning curve was steep as a young chef in a parade of world-class environs, but Brunacci was a natural; following an apprenticeship in Australia at age 21, he moved to London to work at Les Saveurs Restaurant.

Working 15 hours a day at Les Saveurs, Brunacci credits that time as “the best learning experience of my life.” After leaving Les Saveurs, he returned to Australia and cooked for two years before moving to the United States for the first time in 1997 after receiving an invitation to open the Ritz Carlton, Buckhead. “Cooking there afforded me the opportunity to cook with foie gras, truffles and many other rare ingredients we didn’t necessarily see in Australia at that time,” he says.

He spent three years in Buckhead before opening Victor’s, which was awarded five diamonds after only 13 months in operation at The Ritz Carlton, New Orleans. Three years later, Brunacci moved to L’Auberge de Sedona, an ultra-luxurious spa in Arizona, and then, to The Club & Spa at Fiddler’s Creek in Naples, Florida.

Chef Brunacci now scours the globe for the highest quality truffles that he can deliver in the minimum amount of time to his many chef and distributor clients.  He also accesses unique value-added truffle products for those times when the dollar or season keeps the fresh gem at bay!

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Todd Spanier
"King of Mushrooms"

Todd Spanier is known by many to be a kind, considerate, and passionate person, but he is better known as the “King of Mushrooms.” Todd is a well-known figure within the food industry, and is considered to be a pioneer of the “sustainable” and “wild food” movements in California. Todd’s company, King of Mushrooms, has been an essential and valued purveyor of wild foods for hundreds of local restaurants and businesses for almost twenty years. King of Mushrooms has helped create a community of local chefs, farmers, and foragers whose dedication to sustainable food assures that there is a steady supply of fresh, wild and exotic mushrooms as well as other choice edibles.

At age five, Todd was introduced to mushrooms and other various wild edibles by both of his grandfathers. Taking hikes and searching for different types of mushrooms became a weekly occurrence, and the more knowledgeable Todd became, his passion and interest for nature and the outdoors grew. His grandfathers taught him about different mushroom habitats, the influences of lunar cycles, rain, and temperature, and most importantly they taught him how to sustainably pick the mushrooms he most desperately sought out. Todd eventually became involved with the Boy Scouts of America where his skills and understanding of the wilderness further developed. He eventually received his eagle scout award, which is the highest honor a boy scout can receive.

Todd and his family would often go mushroom hunting together, and the person who found the largest mushroom that day was “the king.” One afternoon, Todd went hunting alone and stumbled upon an incredible porcini patch, and was able to pick hundreds of beautiful mushrooms. Todd brought them home, displayed them, and realized that he and his family were not going to eat them all. Having an incredible respect and appreciation for nature, Todd did not want to waste anything and immediately brought his fresh porcini into a local restaurant where he made his first sale. By the end of high school, Todd had already established many accounts with local restaurants.

In 1996, Todd founded King of Mushrooms, a purveyor of sustainable foods specializing in mushrooms, truffles, and other wild edibles. His company has become one of the top purveyors on the west coast thanks to excellent customer service, pricing, and quality products. King of Mushrooms loyal clientele, friends, and family are what keep King of Mushrooms thriving, and Todd’s company is constantly evolving in efforts to become more efficient and green.

Todd is also a passionate advocate for food safety concerning wild foods that are harvested sustainably. Proper identification, which is extremely important when handling and consuming mushrooms is one of Todd’s major concerns as well. Todd is a life-time member of the San Francisco Mycological Society, as well as many other fungus-focused groups such as the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz. Todd also participates in many mushroom and truffle events throughout the year where he sells, lectures about, and identifies mushrooms for curious attendees. Todd is very knowledgeable and has traveled as far as Italy to give lectures on mushrooms and truffles, and is known as an expert in his field.

Todd has lived in the bay area his whole life and currently resides in San Mateo with his beautiful wife Cristina Spanier. They have been married for almost five years now, and Cristina’s love and support has been a blessing for Todd. Cristina and Todd often hunt mushrooms together as husband and wife, and usually participate in mushroom events together. Foraging for wild mushrooms is Todd’s birthright and is a major part of Todd’s family heritage. Todd’s family has been foraging for wild foods for more than three generations, and now Todd and Cristina are happy to continue this family legacy.

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