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.

 

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12 Wonderful responses to “NYTimes Food Conference”

  • A.S.

    As a longtime Westchester resident who’s been to Stone Barns and the surrounding Rockefeller estate since the place opened, it’s a fabulous restaurant. I can certainly appreciate what Barber is trying to do – growing foods primarily for taste – indeed, it’s basically what I try to do for my family in my own garden. It’s a shame, then, that as Barber and the restaurant have become more famous, the price has gone through the roof. When dinner for 2 is upwards of $1000, it’s food for plutocrats, not normal people. And that reinforces the idea that what Barber is doing is for the elite, not for regular folks. I’m the farthest from complaining that somebody is making a profit when there’s a demand – and there are plenty of plutocrats in Westchester and NYC to make Barber a handsome profit. But, IMHO, it completely undermines the message he is trying send.

    On a completely separate note, mild habanero peppers are already available, such as Trinidad Perfume, Grenada Seasoning, and Datil Sweet (which I grow to make pepper jelly).

    • Michael Ruhlman

      I don’t think Dan would completely disagree with you, though I’m sure he would have info to add.

  • Susan Fox

    Michael, I am an enthusiastic fan of your work. I’ve been reading you and all your books since The Soul of a Chef. I’m also an enthusiastic fan of your products, but frustrated that the bamboo pot scrubber costs $9.95 to purchase and $14.64 to ship. Any way to rectify that?

  • JB Morch

    I am enjoying having returned to your blog recently! Just wanted to drop a constructive comment: you may want to review the use of the word “commandeered” in the first paragraph. I don’t think you meant it that way.

  • Ms. Tweetley

    In Seattle, the cute little Honeynut squash just appeared at Trader Joes. Perfect size. Bought one, but haven’t tried it yet.

  • Jim

    Check out the work of the Culinary Breeding Network, Lane Selman’s organization that’s helping farmers grow better tasting vegetables. There’s an event here in Portland Monday night featuring Portland chefs cooking some of the newest stuff.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/11/vegetable-breeders-working-with-chefs/415125/

    This one will make you hungry:

    http://letumeat.com/farms-and-farmers/2016-culinary-breeding-network-variety-showcase/

    Unfortunately, it’s sold out…

    http://portland.eventful.com/events/culinary-breeding-network-variety-showcase-2016-/E0-001-094623744-6

  • Sabrina B

    Wow, wonder if you could tweak a sweeter sweet potato, or…a lot more interesting than some kind of mad science creation, thanks for the info!

  • Tauseef Alam

    Hi,

    Which book you’re taking about? Are you going to release a book about grocery stores in America? Is it out now?

    Regards
    Tauseef Alam

  • NancyRing

    I am delighted you have returned to your page! This is a great post, well written and includes what I feel is an important idea about GMO.

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