Chef’s Table Morel Dinners to benefit Centro Hispano

Orange Shoe Gym's morel hunting owner and Food Fight's Cento team up for a four-night, five-course Chef's Table meal May 16-19.
Two brothers sit side by side on a grassy hill with a pile of morel mushrooms before them.
Courtesy of Scott Michel.
Fourth generation morel hunters John and James at the Michel family farm near Richland Center.

There’s just something about morel mushrooms — the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it season, the thrill of the hunt, the flavorful, earthy, meaty payoff — that captivates foragers, foodies, hobbyists and chefs alike. Next month, thanks to a collaboration between Orange Shoe Gym owner Scott Michel and Food Fight Inc. co-founder Monty Schiro, morel lovers will get the chance to feast on chef-prepared morels while supporting local nonprofit Centro Hispano of Dane County with every bite.

“It came about pretty organically,” says Food Fight managing partner Jordan Bright. “Scott and Monty are personal friends. Scott’s been foraging morels seasonally and had the idea that his hobby could do some good in the Madison community.”

Every May since he was a kid, Michel has hunted morels on the Richland Center dairy farm where he was raised, about 90 minutes outside of Madison in the Driftless Area. “I think the coolest thing is that humans haven’t figured out how to conventionally grow them,” Michel says. “They’re still wild and it’s a total guessing game as to where they’ll pop up year to year.” Michel remembers walking miles and miles of wooded ridges, valleys and hillsides with his grandpa. Those morels seemed magical, but also plentiful. It wasn’t until he grew up, moved to Madison and saw the prices of morels at the Dane County Farmers’ Market that he realized how valuable they really were.

A young girl lies next to a pile of morel mushrooms in the grass at her family farm.

Scott Michel’s daughter McKenna displays her morel mushroom haul.

“So I ran the idea of donating the morels across Monty Shiro and [spouse, co-owner and Blue Plate Catering founder] Jodi Fowler’s plate, no pun intended,” says Michel, who, with wife Katie Michel, own the locally-founded Orange Shoe Gym franchise system. “I feel that local businesses have the opportunity to play a huge role in their surrounding communities now more than ever. When we develop relationships within the community and find opportunities to give back in meaningful ways, it’s always a positive outcome for both the business and the community members.”

Schiro thought the morel fundraiser was a great idea, says Bright, and they quickly landed on a four-day, five-course tasting menu at Cento, Food Fight’s Italian restaurant on West Mifflin Street. While morels are often used to complement other flavors, Chef Chris Myers will focus on making morels the star. Course one will be a morel cappuccino biscotti; course two, insalata with asparagus, morel and crab; course three, porcini pappardelle with short rib and morel; course four is grilled branzino with morel, ramp and pernod; and course five is chocolate morel gelato with granola.

“There’s a lot to love about morels. On the surface, it’s just the complexity and delicate flavors of such a simple food,” says Bright. “They’re perfectly nutty, earthier than a traditional mushroom, and have a unique, almost meat-like texture. All of those flavors and textures add up to an umami richness that’s hard to replicate.”

Chef’s Table Morel Dinners cost $150 per plate — but $100 of every meal goes directly to Centro Hispano, the primary social services provider for Latino families in Dane County. Choosing that nonprofit was a natural fit, says Bright.

“We all felt that would be the most impactful use of Scott’s generous donation,” says Bright. “Centro’s programming is diverse and we see the impact they make on community all the time. We also are proud to support an organization that we know our employees not only support, but often access and use the community resources that Centro Hispano provides.”

Chef’s Table Morel Dinners require a minimum of four people per reservation, are limited to two parties per night, and will only run Sunday through Wednesday, May 16-19. That gives Michel a deadline to forage and deliver 12 pounds of morels, but he and Katie Michel have plenty of help from family and friends — plus four kids of their own now, a fourth generation of foragers on the family farm.

“I’ve never personally had a chef prepare mushrooms so I am excited to see what recipes they come up with,” Michel says, adding that even though Cento is one of his favorite restaurants, he probably won’t get the chance to sample chef-prepared morels this year, either. “We have four kids who don’t sit still very long so we might swing by and say hi, but we’ll most likely head home and sit around a campfire and trade stories of who found the biggest mushroom.”

To reserve the Chef Table Morel Dinner, call Cento at 608-284-9378.

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