The Mushroom Mentality Discovering the Regenerative Mushroom Startup in Our Own Backyard

>> It’s official: 2019 is the Year of the Mushroom, and Nick Pesesky, a mycologist for Leep Foods, is here to tell us all about the world of this growing gourmet industry. Located in an unassuming 5000 square-foot warehouse by the Genesee River, the staff at Leep Foods describe themselves as a “regenerative mushroom startup cultivating healthy and sustainable communities.” Originally opening with the purpose of selling mushrooms as herbal supplements throughout Asia, co-founders George Zheng, Chris Carter, and Scott Valpay quickly realized the potential for fresh mushroom cuisine to thrive in the Rochester area. As a mycologist, an individual who forages or works directly with mushrooms, Nick found himself thrilled with the potential of working with Leep Foods, explaining that, “There’s this stigma surrounding mushrooms of them either being illicit or low quality and limited to one or two species--when really the diversity of the fungal kingdom is just vast.”

At Leep Foods, each staff member works to spread an idea known as The Mushroom Mentality, a concept which aims to reshape the public opinion on how mushrooms can be used in a culinary setting. Elaborating on this vision, Nick shares that, “The immediate reaction to mushrooms as a field are drugs or portobello and button varieties, which are essentially the same mushrooms.” Often containing a bitter taste with that classic mushroom texture, Nick explains that many large distributors of these mushrooms are using non-organic chemicals and manure during the growing process: “The poor flavoring is a reflection of the properties that are being used to mass produce these products. At Leep Foods, we’re certified USDA organic, so all of our ingredients are being reflected in the integrity of our product.” Leep Foods is focused on providing the Rochester Area with a high-quality and sustainable yield, using innovative tactics and the power of scientists and engineers from the Rochester Institute of Technology to change the mindset surrounding the typical mushroom experience.

Walking through the warehouse, the unique varieties of fungi growing in the facility could not go unnoticed. Mushrooms with rich blue coloring and spindly fur-like strands filled the walls of the laboratories. If you’re looking for a Portobello mushroom, you’re not going to find one here-- but that’s exactly the experience that Leep Foods wishes to create. Currently offering three distinct varieties known as Blue Oyster, Coral Maitake, and Lion’s Mane, each species has its own flavor profile which holds no resemblance to the slimy texture of the Portobello. When describing the mushrooms, Nick says that, “The biggest word that comes to mind is meaty-- sometimes I think that this can be a little too dramatic, but it really can be a great alternative to meat for those who are trying to cut down on their intake.” The discovery of these unique varieties made it easy for Nick to switch to vegetarianism himself, likening the Lion’s Mane to the flavor and consistency of crab, and their trademarked variety, Coral Maitake, to the experience of eating steak...

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