When Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez graduated from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business last year, they thought they would become investment bankers.
Instead, they invested in themselves, becoming farmers whose innovative way of growing mushrooms ended up, well, mushrooming beyond their wildest dreams.
Now their small start-up company, Back to the Roots, produces about 500 pounds of fresh oyster mushrooms a week — all grown in recycled Peet’s coffee grounds (10,000 pounds a week of it to be exact).
It was during their last semester in school when Arora and Velez figured out it was possible to grow mushrooms this way.
This year, they also launched the “Easy to Grow Mushroom Garden” ($19.95), which allows folks to grow up to a pound of fresh oyster mushrooms at home in as little as 10 days. You get multiple crops from it, too. Just set it on a kitchen window sill and mist twice a day. Just think: a project to amaze the kids and a way to have fresh, gourmet mushrooms at your fingertips for cooking up delicious meals. The kits, which come complete with a mister and recycled coffee grounds, are available at Whole Foods markets.
Through the holidays, 5 percent of all sales from the kits will be donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer awareness. It’s a cause near and dear to Velez, who is a cancer survivor.
Contest: One lucky Food Gal reader will get the chance to win a free kit. The contest is open to anyone in the United States. Deadline to enter is midnight PST Dec. 4. Winner will be announced Dec. 6.
How to win? Just tell me your most memorable experience with mushrooms — be it a dish you tasted for the first time or an adventure you had involving them in some way. The best answer will win the kit.
To get you started, here’s my own answer to that question:
When I was a food writer and editor at the San Jose Mercury News, I once assigned a colleague to go mushroom foraging with trained mycologists. My colleague got so into the assignment that even after he had finished writing the story, he would go hunting for wild chanterelles on his own. One day, he proudly handed me a small bag of them as a gift. I remember showing my boss the golden orange mushrooms. Half-jokingly, she said, “OK, when you eat these, just be sure to leave at least one on your kitchen counter. That way, if you don’t show up to work tomorrow, we’ll know what happened to you and at least have one specimen to give to authorities!” Needless to say, I sauteed those mushrooms in butter later that night, enjoyed every last bite of their beguiling apricot-like flavor, and lived to tell about it all.
CSN Contest Winner: In last week’s Food Gal contest for a $100 CSN gift card, I asked you to tell me the one kitchen item you could never do without or giveaway. There were so many great answers that I’ve decided to pick two runners-up, too, who will each receive a cookbook from my vast collection. Without further adieu, here are the winners:
Runner-Up: Jen, who wrote, “My husband the cook!! (Last night’s kitchen story: I came home from work and saw that he’d been experimenting with some Thanksgiving-worthy vegetable side dishes and — sweet! — he’d saved the leftovers for me in bowls in the fridge. Chard and Kale sauteed with garlic and pine nuts in one bowl, Brussels sprouts roasted with bacon in another. I spooned up generous servings of each and ran upstairs to tell him what a great job he’d done … only to find that I’d stolen from his offerings for today’s office potluck. Oops! Won’t say whether he made me put it all back…. )”
Runner-Up: Lisaiscooking, who wrote, “I have an apron that belonged to my grandmother. She always wore an apron, but I never do. Except on Thanksgiving. I’m cooking at my brother’s house this year, and I’m bringing the apron!”
Grand Prize Winner: Linda, who wrote, “My mom’s set of old, worn, tried & true Pyrex mixing bowls. the primary colors of each bowl are faded from all the wear and tear of mixing, storing, marinating and whatever else we decided to use them for. I was absolutely crushed when I broke the smallest blue one and tried to replace it . . . but there was no replacing the love and food that was in the life of that bowl . . . I have the remaining 3; yellow, green and red and am more careful about making sure these don’t get dropped so that they have more food and life in them from my mom’s spirit to share going forward.”