The Local Dish
Doce Lunas Restaurant, Chef/Owner Alex Purroy
First in a series
At a young age, Sonoma County native Alex Purroy knew he wanted to travel the world.
In a career that has spanned five-star restaurants and hotels from Toronto to Maui over more than two decades, Chef Purroy has collected plates wherever he has cooked. Today, those plates decorate the dining room of his own restaurant, Doce Lunas, in Kenwood, and show that he has pretty much accomplished the goal he set at age 14.
After attending the culinary program at the City College of San Francisco, Purroy began a three-year apprenticeship at the historic St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. As an apprentice, Purroy was only paid about one-third the wage of an experienced journeyman, which in the 1980s came to about $5 an hour – an impossible wage to live on in San Francisco even at that time.
To make ends meet, Purroy turned to ice carving and collecting mushrooms. “I was the worst ice carver in San Francisco,” said Purroy. “But I was also the cheapest. So I got a lot of work that way.”
As for the mushrooms, Purroy would gather wild Chanterelles and Porcini mushrooms in the Bay Area hills after the winter rains, and sneak into the kitchen at St. Francis in the early morning hours to process them.
Purroy would saute the Porcinis with shallots and olive oil, vacuum seal them, and hide the bags between blocks of ice in the freezer. He was one of the few people who had the keys to the freezer, but even so, he would label them with nonsense words and names to make sure that if people stumbled across them, they wouldn’t know what they were or who they belonged to. After mushroom season, Purroy would take his bags of preserved Porcinis to other restaurants throughout the city and sell them.
“That and ice carving pretty much got me through the apprenticeship,” said Purroy.
Purroy kept the Chanterelles mostly for himself. He would dehydrate them in the oven and blend them into a fine powder, which he called Gold Dust, and use it for his personal and professional cooking. In fact, one of his final tasks in order to graduate his apprenticeship was to put on a large fine wine dinner. Purroy used his Gold Dust for that dinner, cooking a venison loin pressed in Gold Dust, sauted in clarified butter.
Purroy emphasizes that his use of mushrooms are more techniques than recipes, so he doesn’t offer specific measurements or instructions, but rather a few ideas to get started.
Venison Au Jus
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Season venison medallions with salt, coarse pepper, and Gold Dust (see below).
Place in pan on stove top burners over medium-high heat. Sautee in butter to desired temperature. Remove venison from pan and deglaze pan with white wine.
In a very hot pan, saut porcini mushrooms and shallots with butter (or olive oil). Add wine and drippings from the first pan, along with a little bit of venison stock or other stock (like beef). Simmer until reduced.
Serve venison with sauce.
Venison Loin in Gold Dust
Dehydrate the chanterelles in a food dehydrator or in oven under the pilot light. In the oven, prop the door open a little and check them regularly. Realize this will take two days to dry them completely.
Use a food processor to blend the mushrooms into a fine dust. Use this Gold Dust to give a delicious, earthy flavor to your dishes, from meat to soups.
Wild mushrooms can be collected any time after the winter rains bring them up from the ground, although learning to identify mushrooms is a crucial first step before heading into the woods. The Sonoma County Mycological Association is a good place to start (www.somamushrooms.org/index.php).
Mushrooms can also be found at several local farmer’s markets, although Porcinis and Chanterelles, which are harvested from the wild rather than cultivated, may be harder to come by unless you go to a place like Far West Fungi at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
You may also be able to glean a few tips from Chef Purroy. Doce Lunas is located at 8910 Sonoma Hwy. in Kenwood, and can be reached at 833-4000.
Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.
If you are a local chef in Kenwood, Glen Ellen or Oakmont and have a favorite dish with a great story, email Sarah Phelps at email@example.com.