Mushroom Madness

Shroom hunting at Vancouver Island’s Aerie resort

By: Janice Mucalov

After a full moon, the mushrooms just sprout,” enthused guest chef Daniel Rigolett, as we hunted for wild mushrooms in the forest.
Rigolett can sniff out prized chanterelles growing a good 100 yards away. He knows his mushrooms, but just in case, he carried his “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms” to help identify the species we find (and discard any renegade poisonous ones). Earlier in the day, we had joined fellow mushroom lovers on a fall mushroom hunt offered by The Aerie resort, located just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Armed with baskets, knives and rubber gloves, we trudged into the second-growth forest, where mushrooms thrive on the tree decay.

By the end of the outing, our baskets were nearly full, although we didn’t find any fragrant pine mushrooms and the bright red lobster ’shrooms (which look like lobster claws) are too mushy from the previous night’s frost. But we lucked out with the chanterelles.

All too soon, we’re spirited back to The Aerie. Executive chef Christophe Letard reviewed the best cooking methods for the mushrooms, and we toasted our finds with mushroom martinis and tucked into a three-course lunch featuring& mushrooms, of course.

Dining is a big part of the experience at The Aerie. Guest chefs are regularly invited, and on our weekend visit, in addition to leading our mushroom hunt, Rigolett worked with Letard to create an unforgettable seven-course French dinner.

Not that Letard needs any assistance. His kitchen is quite adept at serving up its own three-, four-, five- and seven-course dinners. Perhaps a blue cheese croquette for an amuse bouche, then a seared scallop appetizer with a duck confit wonton and rhubarb relish? Follow that with rosemary and hazelnut-crusted sweetbreads, and a baby romaine Caesar salad. Next comes a spiced apple sorbet to cleanse the palate, before moving on to the main course of roast ostrich or maybe grilled sablefish with a snowpea saute. And finally, for dessert, warm chocolate pastry with a thimble of lavender ice cream.

Dinners at The Aerie are such a hit that Letard holds menu discussions each afternoon at 4:30 p.m. to review the menu with guests and showcase the ingredients, which are all organic, and as much as possible, locally produced. For an even more in-depth culinary immersion, three-hour cooking classes are offered in the resort’s private show kitchen.

If clients feel the need to burn off any of the calories consumed with all that fine dining, there’s a lovely 40-minute forest trail circling Spectacle Lake, a short distance away. Nearby Goldstream Provincial Park also has several trails that meander through large stands of moss-laden, old-growth Douglas fir, western cedar, cottonwood, big leaf maple and alder trees.

Mind you, simply relaxing is appealing at The Aerie. Perched high in the Malahat mountain pass, the opulently decorated suites of the 35-room, Mediterranean-style mansion come with fireplaces and couches perfectly placed for soaking in the magnificent views. Its separate six-suite Villa Cielo is even more luxurious think Brazilian cherry hardwood floors, one-of-a-kind art furniture and fresh flowers and chocolate truffles upon arrival.


This year, the Saturday mushroom hunts will be held on Sept. 16, 23 and 30, and Oct. 7, 14 and 21. The five-hour excursion, including lunch, costs around $108 per person. This autumn, Brother Michael, a Benedictine monk from the local Sole Dao Monastery and a mushroom expert who has supplied local hotels and restaurants with mushrooms for years, will be conducting the hands-on mushroom hunts.
Weekend rates at The Aerie start at around $265 night, dropping to $220 as of Sept. 28.

Commission is 15 percent.