Published July 28, 2012
Lacey festival organizers hope numbers keep mushroomingCHELSEA KROTZER
Linda Richards took a bite of pizza and was taken aback by the amount of heat contained in one small mushroom. “The mushrooms really have a kick,” she said, her face reddening. “It does say ‘spicy’ on there, and they meant it.” The Federal Way resident drove down to attend the fifth annual Pacific Northwest Mushroom Festival at the Regional Athletic Complex in Lacey with her mother, Joni Merten, of Olympia. They follow festivals around the state in search of new and exotic ways to enjoy food. Merten had mushrooms Saturday in a way she’d never thought possible. “I had mushroom ice cream,” she said. “It was delicious, and I am going to go get some more after I’m done with this spicy food.” Richards opted for some old-fashioned lemonade to cool her palate. While the festival focuses on mushrooms, it doesn’t turn away traditional fair-food offerings. The only catch is that every vendor, with the exception of those selling desserts, must feature a mushroom-inspired dish, giving attendees a range of options including mushroom burgers and deep-fried mushrooms. Mushroom popcorn was said to make an appearance during the festival’s inaugural wine tasting Saturday night. Richards loved it all – especially the fried mushrooms. “Those were excellent,” Richards said. “They weren’t greasy – just nice and light” Merten wouldn’t have been bothered by grease, saying “you always take a chance with fried food.” The two-day festival has attracted between 6,000 and 8,000 people each year and continues to grow, organizers say. It began because organizers wanted to bring a festival to Lacey. One obvious theme choice was mushrooms, given the history of Ostrom Mushroom Farms off Steilacoom Road. The event has been sponsored by Hawks Prairie Rotary ever since. It had a net income of about $20,000 last year, said Corey Lopardi, chair of the festival. That money goes to local programs such as Boy and Girl Scouts and the Boys & Girls Club, as well as some national charity efforts. The hope is to break the attendance record this weekend by hitting 10,000, with long-term goals of reaching 20,000 guests. To attract those kinds of numbers, the festival has grown to include a variety of tastings, educational booths and local and award-winning guest chefs showing the best ways to prepare the showcased ingredient. Some nationally known chefs showcasing their talents this weekend include Thierry Rautureau of Seattle’s Rover’s and Luc restaurants, who is competing on Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters,” and Chef Amadeus, who won last year’s Food Network’s “Extreme Chef” competition. Having big-name chefs has helped the event grow rapidly in attendance and amount of money raised. “It grows every year; the amount we give back goes up by 20 percent each year,” Lopardi said.