A weekly series about our food and sustainable agriculture.
To Jack Czarnecki, his lifelong fascination with wild mushrooms can be distilled down to one determinant factor: family genetics. More specifically, his father, Joe Czarnecki, who of European Polish descent, created quite a stir in his day with his cutting-edge restaurant ‘Joe’s’ in Reading, Pennsylvania. In the 1950′s Joe Czarnecki was among the first chef’s to use wild mushrooms, drawing culinary notables from afar, including Craig Clayborn, James Beard, and Julia Child who back then wanted “to find out about this guy”.
As a child Jack Czarnecki would go on mushroom hunts with his father, but it wasn’t until he and his wife Heidi, took over Joe’s in 1974 that he really got hooked on foraging for wild mushrooms, and putting them on his restaurant menu.
Although the truffle is classified as a mushroom, it is almost wholly distinct from any other mushroom. In 1996 Joe’s closed after 80 years of existence, and Jack and Heidi relocated to Oregon, and started The Joel Palmer House , a restaurant in the small town of Dayton, near Portland. It was here that Jack turned his attention to truffles, in part, because Oregon truffles at the time had been given the wrongful reputation of being somehow inferior to their European counterparts. Early on, Jack found both the Oregon White and Oregon Black Truffle to be quite the opposite, true culinary treasures.
As Jack Czarnecki explains in the video, one of the biggest challenges is learning how to make natural truffle oil; oil that faithfully reflects all the complexities and subtleties of the gasses inside a ripening truffle. Although he has made tremendous strides over the four years he has been producing his different truffle oils, he still feels he has more to learn about making truffle oils.
Jack Czarnecki’s deep love of wild mushrooms, his training as a chef, as a microbiologist, and his natural affinity toward philosophical inquiry— of seeking to grasp the large out of that which may be quite small— continues to fuel his drive to commercially produce a better truffle oil.
As though fulfilling an unwritten destiny, Jack’s son Chris now runs The Joel Palmer House restaurant, and his other son Stefan is involved in the restaurant, and helping his dad with their truffle oil business.
In the Czarnecki family, the apple seems to not fall far from the tree.
- Oregon Truffle Oil (Jack Czarnecki): FAQ
- Food; Into the Woods: Molly O’Neil (NYT)
- Joe’s Book of Mushroom Cookery- Jack Czarnecki
- A Cook’s Book of Mushrooms: With 100 Recipes for Common and Uncommon Varieties-Jack Czarnecki and Louis B. Wallach
- Portobello Cookbook-Jack Czarnecki and Alexandra Maldonado