Thursday, September 30, 2021

Arif Towns Alonso: The Mushroom King of SMA

Five years ago this week, my friend, Preston Engebretson and I went foraging for mushrooms and hooked up with local expert, Arif Towns Alonso, who was selling mushrooms to most of the major chefs in SMA. It was the first mushroom tour that Arif did. He was scheduled to start up his tours after this dry run.
None of us knew what to expect so off we went to Santa Rosa de Lima - Preston with his book (American Nature Guide: Mushrooms and Other Fungi by Geoffrey Kibby) and his experience - he use to go hunting mushrooms with his father in Washington state - and me, with my camera, to document what we found under the guidance of Arif Towns Alonso, who showed us the ropes of not meeting an unfortunate end by sampling the wrong species. The one cardinal rule in mushroom hunting: If in doubt, throw it out. We got an abundance of mushrooms that trip and our two subsequent trips that followed. Arif Towns Alonso was officially in the mushroom tour business and mushroom lovers, curious foodies, fitness buffs and chefs were all eager to sign up for the all day hike. After all, the landscape around Santa Rosa de Lima was drop dead gorgeous (I wanted to stay in this little red house forever) and our trips yielded many varieties of mushrooms because the season was really good that year.
Our final trip resulted in a bounty of blue mushrooms; our ultimate prize, which we brought to the chefs in SMA to prepare. Here, chefs Magda Elisa Pablos and Ari Vasquez of El Vergel were thrilled with our find and we later took blues to Chef Marco Cruz and Pablo Nicacio, at Nomada cocina de interpretacion, where they prepared them in a delicious Mezcal sauce. Taking it one step further, I never looked at mushrooms the same way again. A variety of tours followed, to different locations each season, including trips with many of SMA’s best chefs. Five years later, we’re celebrating the fact that Arif has educated so many people about mushrooms. He also taught a class for Master Chef Mexico late last year.
Salud to the master who brings adventure and passion to everyone who is lucky enough to catch one of his tours including showing us the only bar in Santa Rosa de Lima where you can fill up an empty bottle with Mezcal for under $100 pesos; a must do after a long day of hunting for mushrooms.
Arif Towns Alonso says the season hasn’t ended yet. His last tour will be late September or early October this year. Connect with him on Facebook for further information on the grand tour that will close out the mushroom season.