Professional forager Eric Whitehead and his crew are secreted away at an undisclosed location in the B.C. Rocky Mountains harvesting morel mushrooms.
The prized mushrooms, which are used in gourmet dishes, typically sell for $10 to $14 per pound — and those prices mean collectors like Whitehead guard their harvest sites carefully.
"Well if I told you, I'd have to kill you," Whitehead joked when asked where he was calling from.
In fact, the area is so remote Whitehead had to drive to the top of a mountain just to get cell phone reception.
"It's a highly competitive industry. The wild morels come up only for a brief period, basically the month of June, and if I mention where I am, I'm going to have another couple hundred people on my doorstep," he said.
Whitehead was willing to offer up a couple of hints, however. Morels thrive each spring as the sap begins to move up the trees and are often found in damp places hit by forest fires the year before.
"We chase last year's forest fires, basically," he said.
And that means rough terrain, weeks away from home, and secrecy.
"It's a lifestyle," Whitehead said. "It's a fantastic thing to do to be out in the wilderness picking wild food and bringing it to Canadians."
Most morels harvested in Canada are dried and shipped off to Europe, he said. However, all of the mushrooms collected by Whitehead's crew are sold within Canada.
Asked whether the business was lucrative, Whitehead became philosophical.
"Lucrative? It has its days. You know, it's a gamble. You can have a great day, you can have a bad day. But overall, anyone who ever seems to get near this is in love with it."
This year, more than 50 people applied at Untamed Feast, the St. Albert company Whitehead co-owns, in the hopes of going to the harvest.
"We love getting gourmet, hard to find, amazing, wild food into Canadian mouths. It's what we do."
Warning: the interview below contains language some may find offensive.Suggest a correction