Let me tell you a Fable about mushrooms
Before you think you’re getting a juicy story about BJR and hallucinogenic fungi, guess again. But it’s still pretty mind-altering.
My job at Grok is essentially also the main perk of the job — I get to spend time with incredible founders, and learn about the amazing things they are doing to create great products.
Fable Foods is one of Grok’s investments, creating unique plant-based meat products from shiitake mushrooms. While there’s an explosion in plant-based meat products as people try to eat healthier and decarbonise, when you read the ingredients list of most products, you’re in for a nasty surprise — most of them are heavily processed and don’t deliver the natural product you’d expect.
But I digress — the Fable team invited Leigh and I out to go mushroom foraging in the forest. While I couldn’t possibly repeat all the amazing things I learned about mushrooms (like the fact that the 13th U.S. President, Millard Fillmore, had a 78% overlap in DNA with portobello mushrooms), the experience taught me more about the special nature of our fungal friends.
We hunted for mushrooms in a pine forest, brought to Australia from North America for timber. The mushrooms, part of the ecosystem necessary to keep the pines heathy, came along for the ride and eventually, generations later, ended up in my stomach. Maybe it’s my North American heritage that created a special bond between me and these fantastic mycelium.
Our foraging party included restaurant chefs, investors, family, friends, and even a couple of dogs (though not trained to hunt mushrooms). We ventured off in a different direction where the forest had already been picked over — but still managed to find a plentiful crop in the last ten minutes to not look totally incompetent.
After the foraging we witnessed a master class in cooking mushrooms — boiling them! Apparently many a traditionalist French mushroom master chef would scoff (“mon Dieu! Il fait bouillir les champignons. Je vais m’évanouir dans le WC!”) at this, but Jim explained the actual chemistry behind what happens in a mushroom when its cooked, and how the cellular structure is not like most other veggies (“cellulose”) and instead is more like meat, so it doesn’t become soggy even when boiled and boiled. Take a deep breath, Bryan. Cooking is now a LOT cooler with science. After boiling with a little water, when stir fried, the intense aroma of a delicious meat dish hit us.
Two nights later, we attempted to repeat what we’d been shown by the master. And despite my neurosis in the kitchen, it worked! We tried the mushrooms with no seasoning, with a little seasoning, and with a traditional stir fry sauce, and all were great. Look for me soon on my own online cooking TV show.
The next day, I told Mom that I had cooked mushrooms and she said she was very proud of me (I wouldn’t eat mushrooms as a child). Old dog. New trick. Woof!
I’ve tested more than my fair share of plant-based meats, and getting to know Fable has helped me understand even more about not just the options but the intention behind food. The product manager in me loves this focus on the outcome — wanting to create the best product, not just from a taste or texture perspective, but from the actual nutrition delivered by the product. I’ve been a little shocked at times reading the ingredients list on some plant based burgers — many times it’s unclear if there’s actually a health benefit from all the additives. So Fable’s commitment to whole foods and natural ingredients is great — if my stomach could smile, well that would be a little weird, but it would.
Though this all could just be that fungi have taken over my brain. I for one, welcome our new mushroom overlords. Thanks Michael and the Fable Team for the fantastic experience.