The Fun Guy
Looking for an engaging guide through the world of fungi?
Then talk to William Nelms, aka "Mr. Fun Guy"—get it? Nelms sells a variety of gourmet mushrooms: maitake to shiitake, crimini to Portobello, oysters to lobster mushrooms, and morels to chanterelles.
Nelms brings to the job his experience as a chef in the Philadelphia area, where he once made pastries for the world-renowned Le Bec Fin Restaurant. He also has worked as a chef in Martha's Vineyard as well as Fort Myers Beach.
When his brother married into a family that had a mushroom company, they asked him about selling mushrooms in the Sarasota area. That opportunity turned Nelms into a fungi whiz. "I researched and found out how good these mushrooms are," he says.
And by good, Nelms means from a gourmet standpoint as well as nutritional and medicinal value. First, some of the mushrooms offer tastes you wouldn't expect, such as the lobster taste of the lobster mushroom and the steak-like taste of the maitake (also known as Hen of the Woods).
Then there are the purported health benefits. The maitake is used by some to treat cancer, as is the chaga mushroom tea he sells. "Chaga tea is one of our best-sellers," Nelms says. People report that the tea has helped them sleep better, given them more energy, and aided with digestive issues.
The majority of the mushrooms Nelms sells are grown indoors at a facility in Fort Pierce. However, Nelms also carries morels, which are foraged in the wild, as well as lobster mushrooms, which are shipped overnight from Washington state. The lobster mushroom variety sells out quickly at the markets; the cremini variety is also popular, Nelms says.
Falling for fungi
Some people resist eating mushrooms because they know only the bland white variety from the supermarket. However, those mushrooms are usually wrapped in plastic, killing their taste, Nelms explains. It's better to get them fresh and uncovered.
It's also important to know how to cook them. Nelms favors roasted mushrooms, evenly cut and with just a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, for 20 minutes in a 375° F. oven. He also conjures up mouth-watering images of mushroom bisque soup and portobello mushrooms stuffed with crab imperial and topped with raspberry jam and horseradish. Nelms encourages customers to cook their mushrooms to get the full nutritional benefit.
Nelms makes the rounds at local farmers' markets, including the Venice Market on Saturdays, the Phillippi Creek Market on Wednesdays, and the Englewood Market on Thursdays. The company's mushrooms also can be found at farmers' markets in Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. Local restaurants that use Mr. Fun Guy's fungi include Pomona and Lila, both in Sarasota, and Zeke's in Englewood.