dessert-squash

Just returned from the New York Times Food For Tomorrow Conference (this post being in keeping with my goal of keeping a culinary web log), and I found it energizing and amazing, in large measure because it was held at Blue Hill Stone Barns in Westchester, New York, an amazing place, led by chef Dan Barber, about whom I will say this: He can be really fucking annoying. Which I’ll get to.

 

dan

 

I was there because NYT food editor Sam Sifton, who knew I was working on (just finished in fact) a book about grocery stores in America. I would be on a panel with Rodney McMullen, CEO of the biggest traditional grocer in the country, Kroger, with 2,600 some stores, including those in about 30 chains that do not bear the Kroger name. McMullen began putting stickers on food at a Kroger’s as a young man and never left. He’s an affable guy who was uncommonly open for a CEO of a company that does $100 billion in sales (or one tenth of all food retail sales in a country of 350 million).

 

me-and-rodney

 

I (note to Kim: hair imperfect this time) was able to ask him if he thought it was a grocer’s job to educate and direct customers toward more nutritious food. No, he said. It was their job to be transparent—that is, to make clear to the customer what was in the food they were buying. And this hews to my belief that it’s up to the customer to educate himself or herself and not rely on others to do it for them.

The estimable reporter Kim Severson led a panel of the next generation of food writers (I being now in the agéd community): Jenny Rosenstrach, Michael W. Twitty, and Molly Yeh.

Sifton led, among many other panels, one on the state of seafood. A member of the panel, Sean Barrett, co-founder of Dock To Dish, noted that 90% of the fish sold in the United States is imported. But he also said that the United States has been a “beacon of light” in terms of responsible stewardship of our waters. The whole panel was hopeful for our oceans, at least those surrounding the United States.

The day concluded with food and drink. See snap shots below.

Oh, and why is Barber annoying. Because he’s so smart, so articulate, and so effective. When he was in Cleveland, he said he was on his way to work with a farmer to develop his own strain of wheat. (That’s nice, Dan.) Well, he did. And now it became a bread tasting at our dinner. He also created a brand new variety of squash. The farmer said these astonishing words: “In all my years as a farmer, no one has ever asked me to breed for flavor.”

This has resulted in a tiny butternut squash. Barber served it as a dessert, the top photo. I felt I was tasting squash for the first time. He’s also worked with the farmer to develop a habanero without the heat, so that you can actually taste this delicious pepper. And he created a beet sweet enough to eat raw. The beet at and pepper are served together below. This is the kind of GMO we need more of. Thanks Dan (and Sam!) and all the folks at Blue Hill Stone Barns.

habenero

The “habanada” pepper on beets. The hippy in back, btw, is the delightful creator or Siggi yogurt, Siggi Hilmarrson.

There were other influential folks there too. I sat next to Blue Apron founders Matt Salzberg, foreground, and Ilia Papas:

blue-apron-guys

 

A visit to Blue Hill not complete without radishes, served as hors d’oeuvres:

 

radish

 

Sam Sifton talking with Kim Severson:

 

sifton

 

And the innovative menu for the night including new strains of potato so sweet unctuous they were served plain, salt and pepper only, no butter. Truly an amazing tasting menu.

 

menu

OK, time to get back to work, today a story one of the most interesting food towns in Europe that few have even heard of. But I’ll conclude with Barber’s words to all those who work in the food world:

“It’s time we became merchants of happiness, not armies of virtue.”

 

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© 2016 Michael Ruhlman. All rights reserved.