Health department descends on mushroom hunter’s bistro

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Chef Arie Pavlou and Sommelier Dianne Delaney with a portion of the 105 pounds of found wild oyster mushroom.

Thinking of tasting the wild oyster mushrooms Arie Pavlou picked while mushroom hunting in the woods two weeks ago?

You won’t find them at Comtesse Thérèse Bistro, where Mr. Pavlou is executive chef.

Inspectors from Suffolk County’s Department of Health Services stopped by the bistro on Friday and searched for — but did not find — wild oyster mushrooms, which are illegal to sell when gathered from the woods.

“They said [a department] supervisor put the newspaper on the inspector’s desk and told them to check this place out,” Mr. Pavlou said. “They were looking everywhere for the mushrooms, but they were all cooked up.”

Mr. Pavlou was quick to admit he served many dishes with wild oyster mushrooms before the investigators paid him a visit.

He said officials told him during a July inspection that he could sell wild mushrooms.

“It’s a very cloudy spot,” Mr. Pavlou said. “A lot of them aren’t very familiar with that because a lot of chefs don’t forage their own mushrooms.”

Harvested mushrooms served in restaurants must be grown, harvested and processed in an operation regulated by a food regulatory agency, according to Article 13 of the sanitary code. Wild mushrooms can also be sold if they were packaged at a regulated food processing plant.

Mr. Pavlou’s mushrooms — a whopping 105 pounds of them — were plucked from wooded areas in Riverhead and Cutchogue.

Mr. Pavlou has been hunting for mushrooms since he was 5 years old and has harvested and cooked up found fungi all his life. He confirmed that the mushrooms were edible with members of the Long Island Mycological Club shortly after he found them.

“We haven’t had any funeral announcements in the paper yet, so everybody survived the mushrooms,” Mr. Pavlou said. “I made sure it was edible, I made sure it was good so I wouldn’t lose any customers.”

Ms. Kelly-McGovern said the Department of Health Services has not heard any reports of health issues associated with the mushrooms.

The law only applies to food establishments, she said.

“If someone goes out and picks mushroom and uses it in a dish, that in itself is not illegal,” she clarified. “It only applies to restaurants.”

Mr. Pavlou plans to continue hunting for mushrooms, only he’ll now cook them in the kitchen in his own home and not at the bistro.

“I don’t have any hard feelings,” he said. “I understand it’s a public health reason and that’s fine. It’s nice to know the health department is doing their job and paying attention.”

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