A Trip Inside RI Mushroom Company

In addition to getting access to the freshest, most flavorful local ingredients, one of the perks that Bon Appétit chefs enjoy through the Farm to Fork program is the chance to get out and visit their suppliers.

With RI Mushroom Company recently coming on board, it was only a matter of time before everyone wanted to check it out. Manager of Strategic Initiatives Nicole Tocco Cardwell joined a group of chefs and managers from Brown University (both Bon Appétit and Brown Dining culinary team members) and Roger Williams University for a trip to the mushroom mother lode in West Kingston, RI.

The company’s owners, Mike Hallock and Bob DiPietro (“Chef Bob”), met at a farmers’ market about four years ago, and started growing mushrooms in an 8-by-8-foot room in the basement of nearby Sweet Berry Farm and selling them at Sweet Berry’s farm stand. (That’s when they first met Roger Williams Executive Chef Jon Cambra.) Soon they started RI Mushroom, which is now the largest specialty mushroom farm in New England.

The group learned a lot of interesting tidbits. The mushrooms grow so quickly that each “greenhouse” had to be harvested two times a day. Although RI Mushroom is USDA Organic Certified, they don’t sell most of their products using the Certified Organic logo because of the additional cost associated with its use. The wooden planks the mushroom logs sit on are made of hemlock, which is a natural fungicide and one of the ways the farmers avoid chemical use.

To grow mushrooms, you try to trick them into thinking it’s spring or fall by controlling heat, humidity, and light so that they’ll reproduce. White button mushrooms are the same fungus as crimini and portobello: Mushrooms get their coloring from exposure to light, and white button mushrooms are just grown in the dark!

The Bon Appétit team at Roger Williams currently buys a wide variety of mushrooms, including blue oysters, shiitakes, and Jon’s personal favorite, pioppino mushrooms. Bon Appétit Director of Culinary Operations at Brown University Ty Paup was so impressed by the variety and flavor that he immediately began planning for RI Mushroom Company to supply all mushroom needs across campus. “I was amazed with their attention to detail with the quality of mushrooms,” he said. “Their grow houses were impeccably clean. It’s also great how willing they are to work hand in hand with chefs to grow and procure a great product.”

The fungi folks, left to right: Kirby Doius, Brown Dining culinary manager of retail operations; Josh Hennessy, café manager at Roger Williams; Jessie Curran, Brown Dining dietitian; Tara Ward, Brown Dining cook; Bob DiPietro, co-owner of RI Mushroom Company; Jeffrey Hoit, Bon Appétit director of operations at Brown; Jon Cambra, executive chef at Roger Williams; Gerald Furtado, Bon Appétit chef/manager at Brown; Derek Jolie, executive sous chef at Roger Williams; and Mike Hallock, co-owner of RI Mushroom Company