Curtis Lincoln says the first thing that comes to mind when he hears the name Ryan Antenucci. “That dude is awesome,” he exclaims in mild bewilderment. It’s quite the compliment coming from the owner of a four-star restaurant, who is not just close neighbors with the freshman at Colorado Academy, but in some ways is also his boss.
Sitting in Macy’s Place surrounded by books on edible mushrooms, Ryan explains how that came to be. “My dad was walking along our property with Curtis, picking up mushrooms and throwing them into the river and he had been doing this for a couple years because he didn’t want the dogs to eat them because he thought they would die. Curtis said they were expensive mushrooms and that he would pay us for them.”
“At first, I would pay him right away,” Lincoln says. “Now I wait until he reaches $100 at which point he’ll send me these really professional invoices.”
It’s hard to keep up with Ryan, who speaks about a mile a minute propelled by an almost tangible enthusiasm. Likewise, it was hard for his sisters, junior Kiira Antenucci and Nikki Antenucci, ’14, to keep up with him as they foraged their property to see who could pick the most mushrooms to sell to Lincoln for use in his restaurant.
“I started driving to other places like into the mountains. I started figuring out where the porcinis like to grow. After that, my sisters bailed out because I was more into it.”
When Ryan says “driving,” what the 14 year old means is that he was driven by either his mother or father, adding with a tinge of pride that “they make me pay for the gas.”
The product of those expeditions were handfuls of mushrooms that Lincoln would sort through. “But now I’m good at identifying them myself,” Ryan says.
So good, in fact, that Ryan led a group of CA students astray in a biology trip to Mount Falcon where they were to plot data and find outdoor areas. What they found instead were chanterelles, the wild mushroom known for its golden color and peppery taste.
“I wasn’t totally sure, but I was pretty sure that’s where chanterelles would like it. So I kind of led it away from the project we were supposed to do because I started telling everyone on the bus that we could probably find expensive mushrooms. So everyone started looking. We ended up finding some—a huge patch; biggest patch I’ve ever found.”
Ryan took the chanterelles to Lincoln’s restaurant, the Willow Creek Evergreen, which is located at 9029 Upper Bear Creek Road in Evergreen and serves contemporary American fare on a menu that features dishes like risotto with wild mushrooms and grilled Verlasso salmon with chanterelles.
While most of Lincoln’s foragers prefer their payment in trade, Ryan prefers cash. “At first, I would pay him right away,” Lincoln says. “Now I wait until he reaches $100 at which point he’ll send me these really professional invoices.”
As Ryan lists off the types of mushrooms he finds—morels, chanterelles, and porcinis—he becomes visibly proud as he tells the story of the porcini he found that weighed four pounds. “It was twice the size of my head. I got $80 for it.”
In the future, the freshman, who has been foraging since seventh grade, plans on getting a dehydrator to preserve his finds. When asked if that’s what he’ll spend his money on, he says he doesn’t really spend the money. “I don’t like to. I just save it. I might try to build the dehydrator.”
As Ryan lists off what to look for when foraging, he emphasizes a point Lincoln makes earlier: Don’t go foraging unless you know what you’re doing. Or as Lincoln put it, “You can’t learn it from a book. Someone has to teach you.” Which is why it’s a good thing Ryan is such a fast learner, if not at times a bit forgetful.
“Oh, I need to bill Curtis,” he reminds himself while packing up to get back to class. “I should get that invoice in soon.”