I give it a sniff. The odor hits me in the face like a shovel -
intense, pungent, loamy, dizzying. It makes me light-headed. I feel
a bit high, like I'm chasing a pig in a forest.
Czarnecki grins. He does this every night, carrying truffles from
table to table, asking customers to take a big whiff. Named one of
the top 16 chefs in the country by the James Beard Foundation in
1987, he's written three cookbooks and has been described as "the
nation's leading authority on mushroom cookery." But what he loves
most is turning people on to truffles.
Czarnecki orders a bottle of Oregon Pinot from one of his three own
private labels, and we talk while I eat dinner. An unexpected plate
of risotto arrives, with bits of mushroom, white truffle oil, and
topped with black truffle shavings. Czarnecki is sorry to hear
about the morning's truffle hunt, and shrugs, "You should have gone
with me." He heads out two or three days a week to a secret spot
with a handful of friends. Whenever anyone finds a truffle, they
scream at the top of their lungs.
"It's a great way to enjoy the outdoors without killing anything,"
he laughs. He finds truffles under the same trees season after
season, and has unearthed up to 15 from one tree. "They are
gregarious," Czarnecki adds. "You find them at least in twos.
You'll see one, and he has a brother."
A waitress sets down a crab, truffle, cabbage, and Japanese seaweed
appetizer. A few minutes later, another dish of something covered
in small, whole white truffles with a bourbon-infused sauce
arrives. The whites are less aromatic than the black truffles, but
Like the NATS group, Czarnecki looks for animal diggings as a sign
of nearby truffles. But as he jokes, "A guaranteed way of finding a
truffle is to say, 'I'm going home.' "