The 10th Annual Texas Mushroom Festival was all about moments.
It started with the Procession of the Wines, when Woodbine Hotel owner Susan Warmuth led more than 30 waiters and waitresses in a dance that kicked off Friday night’s Gala Dinner.
Then, there was Saturday morning, when the Schedule of Events sign near flew away, but a handful of the countless volunteers that make the Texas Mushroom Festival possible sprang into action to snatch the massive poster away from certain peril.
There was the elation of winners of the Auto Showcase, there was the winner of the Quilt Show drawing being selected by her own granddaughter, and there was the cry from the crowd at the Chef’s Showcase showing support for their favorite spice: “Hooray Garlic!”
Everyone undoubtedly had a different experience at this weekend’s event, but one moment, seen by likely only a handful of people waiting for one of Monterey Mushrooms’ famous mushroom fajitas, captured the joy of Madisonville’s premiere event of the year.
A little girl, no more than 10 years old, looked dubiously at her mushroom fajita before taking a plunge into the unknown.
After a bite and a pause, the one of more than 18,000 visitors to this year’s event looked up at her mother and said, “Mushrooms are yummy,” and then slowly walked off towards the Square, munching on mushrooms the whole way until disappearing into the crowd.
“I’m so proud of everyone and everything that made this year a success,” Mushroom Festival president Sunny Clouser said. “The weather was wonderful and everything went smoothly. We had a wonderful crowd, and I can’t thank everyone who worked so hard to make this event possible enough. I can honestly say this year was the best yet, and it looks like the Texas Mushroom Festival is going as strong as ever.”
Just about every aspect of the 10th Annual Texas Mushroom Festival set a new bar this year. The estimated crowd of more than 18,000 people on the Square is a new high, and the Shiitake Run, Auto Showcase, Chef’s Showcase and Wine Tasting, and Photo Contest all had record numbers of participants this year.
Crowds started filing in long before the 10 a.m. Opening Ceremonies began, and the Square was packed by 11 a.m. with county residents and out-of-town guests as well checking out the vendors that overflowed from the square to side streets and over to The Woodbine Hotel, where the Chef’s Showcase and Wine Tasting took place.
Britt Bunyard, editor and publisher of Fungi Magazine, was among the guests at Friday night’s Gala Dinner and ran a booth Saturday showcasing his publication and selling t-shirts and other mushroom-related paraphernalia.
Bunyard said he attends scores of mushroom festivals each year, but that Madisonville’s event had a unique feel that he saw through both the visitors and activities.
“This is something else,” Bunyard said. “It’s really quite large. I was sort of prepared, but this is pretty wild. It seems like there are two groups of people here. There are a lot that are just here for the fun and just wanted to enjoy the day, and there are others who are really knowledgeable about fungi and are excited about the science and nutritional aspects. They feel mushrooms are a great nutritional food source, and personally we’re seeing a lot more people nowadays being aware of what mushrooms have to offer on that level.”
A Full, Rich Day
County Judge Art Henson and City Manager Danny Singletary gave the official welcoming addresses Saturday morning before the event hit full steam. Henson welcomed everyone with a smile and mentioned several other events that Madisonville has to offer throughout the year.
Singletary thanked the countless City workers and volunteers that made the day possible, and Mushroom Ambassador Jacob Kitson, who also won his age group of the 5K Shiitake Run, helped hold the flags during the opening ceremonies and thanked people for coming out.
A leisurely stroll through the vendor booths revealed more items than could be expected, and some unique items offered included exotic animals and bird feeders made from ornate tableware. Several local churches offered free water and words of encouragement and healing, and even walking sticks that symbolized mankind’s progress in coming to accept Jesus Christ into their lives.
Lines for Monterey Mushroom’s famous free mushroom fajitas were the first to grow long early in the day, but moved quickly as scores of dedicated employees slung out their wares at a rapid pace.
Monterey Mushrooms is of course one of the catalysts and best-visited tents at the festival, and one of the day’s most well-known guests reflected on their contributions to not only the festival, but Madisonville itself.
“Monterey Mushrooms is a wonderful partner to this community,” local state representative Marva Beck said. “This day is all about mushrooms. This event starts off with the Gala Dinner, which is an extraordinary event, and I tell everyone if they come to this event, don’t leave mushrooms on your plate.”
Visitors came from all around – some as far as Colorado and New Mexico, and many from the closer regions around Houston and Dallas.
Gerald Warrent brought his family with him from Conroe and said it’s an event he has attended for several years.
“We started coming about four years ago or so and really enjoy the atmosphere,” Warrant said. “It’s a hometown festival. We go to a lot of small-town festivals in Texas throughout the year, but this is one of our favorites. The kids really enjoy it for the booths and entertainment, and we love mushrooms and getting to try some of the great food.”
Hometown Wining and Dining
Lines started forming outside the Chef’s Showcase and Wine Tasting a good 45 minutes before the event took place. A record number of people, more than 1,000, attended this year’s event and were treated to mushroom-related recipes and cooking samples from wineries and chefs from both home and abroad.
Among the local participants were Robert Bosley of Shrimpy’s Restaurant, local attorney Wes Hammit, and Jack Johnson, a Madisonville High School graduate who works at the world-famous Hudson’s On The Bend Restaurant outside of Austin.
All of the local talent had large followings to see their recipes, and Bosley made it two in a row this year by taking home the award for the top chef.
Johnson recalled Mushroom Festivals past while visiting with friends and family underneath the large tent outside The Woodbine. In fact, it was a family friend who helped Johnson find his way to this year’s mushroom festival, and showcase the skills he’s learned since graduating from culinary school in Austin.
“I have a friend that knew (City Manager) Danny Singletary,” Johnson said. “His mother-in-law lived next door. I remember the Mushroom Festival from when I was young, mostly because of the rubber band gun booth. Going to the Mushroom Festival always meant getting a new rubber band gun. I worked a Jif-E Mart when I was younger and I always enjoyed cooking. About a month before I was scheduled to start at Sam Houston State, I decided I really wanted to go to culinary school. During my externship I worked for a few months for free and ended up getting a job full-time at Hudson’s On The Bend.”
Johnson’s Creamy White Wine Mushroom Pasta went over like gangbusters with the patrons underneath the wine tent, as did all the recipes shared throughout the day. Bosley started things off with his now twice-award-winning Shrim Mushroom Fettucini, and Hammit’s Portabella Jambalaya mixed multiple cooking styles into a dish that flew off the servers’ plates.
Visitors to the Showcase also enjoy five free samples from the wineries in attendance, of which Los Pinos was selected as the top winery at this year’s event.
When the crowds finally did settle down a bit, it became what a great gathering always is – a family affair.
The best part about this here today has been mingling with the people, my friends and family, and just getting to be part of the event,” Johnson said.
There were a lot of tired eyes around Madisonville early this week, while a stray banner or two still hung out around the Square, much like many of the vendors and visitors who seemingly didn’t want to leave.
It’s been 10 years since the Texas Mushroom Festival kicked off from its humble one-tent beginning, and everything indicates the town’s premiere festival is on solid footing.
Scholarship dollars were raised, vendors spread their wares, and the City of Madisonville showcased not only mushrooms, but what it’s all about.
Sammy Reposada and his family left to go back to Dallas just around the time the vendors began packing up, but summed up the 10th Annual Texas Mushroom Festival about as well as can be done.
“This is what a small-town festival should be,” he said.
Then, with Mushroom Festival t-shirts on every member of his clan, they slowly walked away.