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Mushrooms Naturally with Chef John Gelineau Culinary Olympic Medalist | O’Fallon, Missouri

Founder and Chef John Gelineau has been in the culinary business for over a decade. His career has taken him from one of the top country clubs in the nation to the Culinary Olympics. John’s passion for excellent ingredients grown with skill and care led him to cultivate his own mushrooms as a hobby. Eventually, that hobby evolved into a working mushroom farm that supplies the top restaurants and country clubs in St. Louis! 

Culinary Olympics 

A C F Culinary Youth Team USA Wins Gold In Cold-food Competition During First Day 

After nearly 24 hours of nonstop preparation, American Culinary Federation (ACF) Culinary Youth Team USA earned a gold medal in the cold-food competition during their first day of competition at the Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung (IKA) International Culinary Art Competition, or “culinary Olympics,” taking place Oct. 19-22 in Erfurt, Germany. 

ACF Culinary Youth Team USA falls under the banner of ACF Culinary Team USA. These highly skilled, young U.S. chefs are among those representing 20 nations in what ACF Culinary Team USA Manager Edward Leonard, CMC, AAC, has called the “largest culinary event on the global circuit.” 

“They did nice, clean work,” said Aidan Murphy, CMC, AAC, executive chef at Old Warson Country Club, St. Louis, and one of the team’s coaches. “We won one of three gold medals. The other two gold winners and our toughest competitors were Canada and Australia.” 

Now, even with no sleep, the team’s spirits are better than ever, with one gold medal under their belt. When they received their medals, it was the first time they really let out big smiles, said Murphy from Erfurt, Germany. 

Tonight, the team will get to rest for a few hours, but it is back to practicing tomorrow as they prepare their mise en place, prepare their shopping list, and do prep work for Hot Kitchen restaurant and culinary studio portions of the competition that take place Wednesday, Oct. 22. In the Hot Kitchen, the team will prepare 110 dishes to be served to judges and guests. Then, just a few hours later, in the culinary studio, each team member will showcase their culinary skill as they prepare a course using duck in 30 minutes. 

“I told them they have a taste of what success feels like, and now they have to push it to the next level, ” said Steve Jilleba, CMC, CCE, AAC, corporate executive chef, Unilever Food Solutions, Lisle, Ill., and the team’s head coach. “They have to regroup and get ready for the rest of the competitions because it all comes down to the day and the team’s performance.” 

ACF Culinary Youth Team USA members are: 

  • Mike Bush, line cook, Old Warson Country Club, St. Louis 
  • John Gelineau, line cook, Bellerive Country Club, St. Louis 
  • Mike Palazzola, garde manger, Old Warson Country Club, St. Louis 
  • Wayne Sieve, line cook, Racquet Club Ladue, St. Louis 
  • Kevin Taylor, cook, St. Louis Country Club, St. Louis 

Today we are here with Chef and Owner of Mushroom Naturally John Gelineau to see what is happening here in St. Louis.  John, how has business been this last year? 

You know, when the pandemic hit, and all our sales were all restaurant driven, you know, that was my business was just direct sale the restaurant so once all of it got shut down, you know we had we do the Farmers Market on Saturdays. But you know, it was like, alright, everybody’s stuck in their house, so we’ve started doing home delivery. And this was just an office. And so it’s like yeah, we got to do something about it. So we turned it in this little farm store kind of set up, and so you know, we do all of our substrates, all the soil, all that stuff. 

What influenced you to become a part of the mushroom farming community? 

Well, it all started out with me being a chef. And just kind of being curious, I was always into growing and big into gardening. And being a chef at a high-end Country Club, we were allowed to experiment with making cheese and sausage and basically just do everything from scratch. One day I was sitting there and I had just bought my house, and it was time to shut down the garden in the fall. I was looking for things to do in the basement… and I saw this Grow Your Own mushroom kit. And you know, all you had to do was save coffee grounds, and we went through tons of those. And that kind of got me down the YouTube rabbit hole and eventually turned my basement into a small-scale mushroom farm. Initially, still worked full-time as a chef and grew mushrooms part-time while selling them at some farmers’ markets. Then one day, it was just time to decide between being a sous chef at a high-end restaurant, which takes a lot of hours, or not. We could either give this a shot or stay in the culinary business. 

How did you get into doing farmers’ markets? 

Honestly, I just kind of looked around for ones that were close to me. And it turned out that there was one that was only about 10 minutes from my house. It wasn’t any harder than being a chef who is used to waking up early on your Saturday morning. And you know, getting out there doing the farmers market, meeting some people, and getting feedback on your product. So it was nice because it was people who weren’t chefs that weren’t used to the types of mushrooms that we were growing that hadn’t really seen them before. This gave me an opportunity to educate people about it. Oh, yeah. From the beginning. You know, even we started out with just one variety growing our oyster mushrooms, and now we’ve got eight different varieties. And so every mushroom has a culinary use, medicinal purpose, and everything else in between. So it’s, it’s been a long education process, but every year people get more and more interested in it. So say you’ve been at this for like, eight years. Yep. Okay, here’s an APR. 

How many restaurants are you in now? 

We are in 40 restaurants and Country Clubs in St. Louis, as well as shipping to the mid-west region in Kansas City, Omaha and some down to Texas. 

Do you teach people how to run a lab? 

We have not done classes yet, but that is on our soon-to-do list, especially with some of our spawn techniques. The hardest thing is that we can teach the best protocol, but it’s kind of pointless if people don’t have the equipment at home.  But, if people are interested in it, we’ve even thought about renting out space in our lab for people to come in and use, almost like a ghost kitchen.  This would allow them to do some home experiments. 

You’ve got a lot going on. I notice how very thoughtful you have your shop set up. What’s your secret? 

My mom’s an interior decorator, so not only have I seen this happen my entire life basically, but she came in and works. Also, my little sister is a digital graphics artist.  

Looks like you have a lot of metals?  

Those are all culinary metals from all the competitions I’ve done. I was the captain of the 2008 Junior culinary Olympic team, and we represented the United States in Germany and competed against, I think, 38 other countries. Wow. We got a golden silver – the fourth in the world. 

With everything going on up north, has there been trouble getting peat moss?  

Yes, a 100% so.  Especially with our soil. After we compost all of our mushroom substrates, we take that compost and finish it into an organic living potting soil used in the cannabis industry and in all kinds of gardening applications. And that’s been one of our biggest hurdles right now is peat moss seed germination mix, basically, and a lot of that comes in from Canada. Even trying to find cocoa core which obviously, you know, comes from the tropics, more or less, it’s still getting difficult. Since we are small peanuts compared to some of the huge nurseries and greenhouses, we’re just not prioritized and have to drive all over the place to find any little bits and pieces that we can.  Honestly, that’s what a lot of our stuff is right now. 

Let’s go out and look at the compost greenhouse to see them processing the king oyster tubs right now. This is how we process and load all of our king oyster tubs. You’ll see the fresh substrate blocks are going in here. And then we’ll crush up another black to fill in all the gaps, and then it gets topped off with that peat moss casing. 

And then, as I said, in addition to the mushrooms and microgreens we produce, we also do a lot of edible flowers. So as some of our troughs and you know, larger containers kind of lose their usefulness. We’ve retired them into raised beds that we fill with all of our finished potting soil or what we call a full cycle. full cycle meaning because it once you know it was a base, hardwood agricultural waste product. We’ve grown mushrooms off of it, we’ve composted it, and now it’s ready to start its next life, as you know, a plant-growing substrate. But yeah, all these beds will be filled with all of our flowers. We’ve got a bunch out here in the greenhouse that we created last year, so 

What are your future plans for Mushroom Naturally? 

Our future plans would probably be a commercial kitchen. We are just recently starting to get big into Kochi production. Koji is a fungus used for all kinds of culinary applications and is relatively new to many chefs as far as a biological tool to use. There seems to be an endless amount of projects that we could start using this. So ideally, to have a nice professional, commercial kitchen space built. Then we could really start kind of producing some of those products and stay in the same footprint. 

Two more questions. Chef, what’s your favorite way to cook mushrooms? 

My favorite way to cook mushrooms is anything that puts a good amount of caramelization on it. What I really like to tell people, especially if they’re not a big mushroom fan, to begin with, take a good oyster mushroom or hen of the woods, get your grill as hot as you can, cover it in oil, almost excessive amounts of oil, salt, and pepper and get a good hard char on it. Just the transformation of that protein and everything gets so caramelized. It becomes a different product, and it is basically more like eating bacon or a meat equivalent. 

Wonderful. I’ve heard that once before. Yeah. Fantastic. 

How about your favorite way to utilize mushrooms in a drink? 

I would say the only way I’ve ever tried it now would be supplements and coffee in the morning. So that’s, you know, that’s my drinkable mushroom. 

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