The Masterful Mycologist Of Tinker Street

Tinker Street’s resident mycologist takes us along on a mushroom hunt.
Illustration by Claire Harrup

WHEN he’s not busy in the kitchen at Tinker Street, sous chef Eric Neylon is likely to be foraging regional terrain in search of edible treasures. Here, the wild mushroom enthusiast shares some thoughts about his passion for the delicacies, advice on how to hunt them, and preparation suggestions:

I’ve always been interested in mushrooms. There are pictures of me as a child playing with huge chlorophyllum molybdites (false parasols). We had honey mushrooms in my yard that my friends and I would mess around with, and I have memories of stomping on old giant and small pear-shaped puffballs. Friends had morel spots, and I would get to eat some every now and then, but it wasn’t until I was a young adult in my 20s that I found big patches of chanterelles on a backpacking trip. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I took Stephen Russell’s morel and wild mushroom courses at Purdue University, and I foraged mushrooms and other items for Indianapolis restaurants and chefs for the latter half of the 2010s. It got me into the culinary scene here and allowed me to rub elbows with people making waves in our food community. I consider myself a citizen scientist or an advanced self-taught amateur mycologist.

In my earlier years, I would hunt mushrooms all year round, even in the winter. I grew up in Indianapolis, so if I travel to hunt, it’s normally not far from here. My favorite spots are the ones close to home. Wild mushrooms are unpredictable. Sometimes you find nothing but old spent mushrooms or a haul that human or animal foragers have already gotten to. If they’re fresh and choice, they’re far beyond the quality you can find in big stores. Choice edibles are the wild mushrooms that are the most sought-after—morels, chanterelles, truffles, and maitake.

My best hunting advice is to learn about the toxic lookalikes and the trees in your area.

At Tinker Street, I like to preserve a lot of the wild stuff we bring into the restaurant, and I try to incorporate that larder into much of what I do here. We have some amazing mushroom farmers in the state that we source from, as well—Jim Berk from Freedom Valley Farm, Emma Brown from Forage & Cultivate, and Jon and Demi Godar from Eli Creek Family Farms provide us with a lot of our wild mushrooms and farmed mushrooms.

Indiana has an abundant variety of edible wild mushrooms. You can commonly find maitake, oysters, chicken of the woods, morels, lion’s mane, chanterelles, puffballs, wild enoki/velvet foot, boletes, wood ears, blewits, and brick caps. Chanterelles are my favorite culinary mushroom, specifically the smooth chanterelle and the red cinnabar chanterelle. Morels are good, but not as good as chanterelles. Lion’s mane is such a cool and interesting mushroom, and it’s great-tasting if you find it in good condition. Usually, they’re waterlogged from rain and act as sponges. Puffballs are OK as a survival food; they often look fine on the outside but are yellow and unusable on the inside when dissected.

My best hunting advice is to learn about the toxic lookalikes and the trees in your area. You’ll need to read a lot of books and watch a lot of YouTube if you want to eat what you find. Mushroom hunting is a practice necessitated by survival, and now it’s a trending hobby. It’s easy to forget how dangerous it can be, but I also don’t want to perpetuate mycophobia. As long as you do your research, you’ll be fine.