Brian Ambrose is a captain in the Charleston Police Department. More specifically, he is the division commander for strategic analysis and innovations, overseeing crime stats and implementing new technology.
But in his spare time, he's a licensed mushroom forager, hunting for chanterelles, puffballs, milky indigos and the elusive pink chanterelle. His new hobby grew out of his side gig as security at GrowFood Carolina, the food hub that helped lobby DHEC to allow mushroom foragers to get certified and sell the fungi they collect.
A self-professed food lover, Ambrose is that guy, the one who knows his way around a grill. "I'm normally smoking meats like ribs, pork loins, briskets, pork belly, pretty much anything you can put on a grill," he says.
While working security last year at GrowFood's annual Mushroom Gathering party, he learned about the foraging permit and decided to pursue it.
"I'm a big outdoors guy, so I do a lot of hunting and fishing," he says. "While hunting, I noticed chanterelles growing in the woods. My family's property has a large amount of chanterelles."
To get certified, he enrolled at Mushroom Mountain, the upstate fungi farm and laboratory that is the only place in the state to offer the program.
"It's pretty intensive," says Ambrose. "You have to study materials two weeks before the class. You have to take a three-page taxonomic test on species that you're permitted to collect."
There's also a test on what the permit allows you to do legally, where you can forage and how to track the mushrooms you pick. It also covers what you can sell and how it should be packaged.
A much harder exam was identifying the 32 live specimens. "They actually have mushrooms set out," says Ambrose. Many of the examples in the live test come from what students collect during the course.
Hopeful mushroom foragers are taught to identify using several methods to ensure that a toxic fungi like the destroying angel doesn't make its way to a dinner plate.
"It was a little nerve-wracking," says Ambrose. "Looking at a picture is one thing, but some of the things we had not even seen before."
Ambrose passed the test and in September received his permit, which allows him to sell not only in South Carolina but in North Carolina and Georgia, too.
He's already dropped off 10 pounds of chanterelles to GrowFood, but he doesn't know yet how much they fetched in the market — and he's not too worried about it.
"It can be both a hobby and a way to make extra money," he says. "To me, it's just another aspect of being outside and enjoying the outdoors."