Chef's Table: Dan Barber [s01e02]

How you feed your food is what makes the whole cycle of animals and crops work together for flavor in a symbiotic environment that is looking for quality and not for massiveness nor for storage:

"How do we preserve what my grandmother wanted to preserve, which is open landscape, and how do we make the farm and the landscape productive?"

What was needed was animals. And so, dairy was a great way to think about that. And if I want great milk, I have to support the continuing improvement of the pasture. Well, now we're in the chicken business. Because what better way to break up the manure from these dairy cows and spread it in the fields? Chickens. Okay, we're in the chicken business and we're getting lots of eggs. But there is a serious problem, as there always is, with encroaching forest. We're surrounded by dense, thick forest that continually wants to encroach on the field. And so how do we push it back? Goats. Goats will eat this bramble, the things that cows won't eat, and so, all of a sudden, we're in the goat business and I'm figuring out how to cook with goat. And then when you start pushing back the forest, well, you've got the opportunity to do pigs, and so why wouldn't we be in the pig business? As you get deeper into these symbiotic relationships, you're only improving the grass, and if you're improving the grass, you're improving every bite that the dairy cows are taking, and if you're improving every bite the dairy cows are taking, you're improving the milk. To support the continual improvement of the whole system is the goal for better flavor... which, in another sense, is all going to support the vision that our grandmother had to preserve the open space. It's not just the support of the open landscape, not just support of the dairy, it's the support of better flavors. One and the same. Stone Barns Center's more than just a working farm. We're a farm laboratory, so we do a lot of projects with different universities and seed companies, and we also have a really strong educational focus, so we're able to have this kind of inter-disciplinary relationship between educators, farmers, engineers, health care practitioners, chefs. We wanna show really good farming practices, the best farming practices, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a restaurant companion for this organization._

Diet has a direction which is influenced by the types of foods offered by the productive system: if our diet relies on wheat, better be it fresh and by the same coin, more or less local, not needing to be stored for long periods of time.

When we think of Western civilization, you start to realize it was built from wheat. Grains represent 65% of our agriculture. Vegetables and fruits are about 6%. We eat more wheat than just about anything. The problem is that we don't eat true, whole wheat. We eat wheat that's dead and denuded. So it'll last. It's shelf stable. Part of the reason that it has absolutely no flavor is because agri-business is looking for crops that can last a long time in travel or last a long time in your refrigerator. They're not looking for flavor. They're not looking for nutrition. The real disaster is that in all of this, we lost the taste of wheat and we lost all the health benefits, and for something that we eat so much of, it's really a true disaster. If we're gonna change the food system, we have to change how we grow and consume wheat.

Vegetable Research Center | Cornell University

Vegetable Breeder: Michael Mazourek

Can you show us the red peppers you're developing for these special eggs, these red pepper eggs? We came up with the idea of pureeing peppers and feeding them to chickens. Mike wanted to breed us a pepper at a concentrate. The diet for the chicken would allow for the yolk to be truly a red egg yolk. They'll have about 10 times the red pigment. The famous Michael Pollan expression is, "You are what you eat, but you are what you eat eats, too." We have the opportunity here to put that into action, to get people to think about not just what they're eating but what they're eating is eating. **Why would you waste a perfectly great pepper on a chicken instead of feeding it to people?

Michael Mazourek: Peppers evolved to be eaten by birds. So all the really hot ones...

So it's actually... It's the natural system of birds eating peppers.

Mike came here for dinner. I had a butternut squash. I was like, "Mike, why don't you breed a squash that has a lot more flavor and shrink the thing and get the water out of it?" He looked at me and I'll never forget it. He adjusted his glasses like this, he looked up to me and he said, "In all my years of breeding, no one has ever asked me to breed for flavor."

MM: It's something that really, as a breeder, you're really discouraged from working on. Everything is supposed to fit this one uniform size, this conception of what the produce should be, and so this relationship, the beautiful thing is it's really set us free.

Yeah, he ran with it and then four years later, here we are with this new variety of squash. It's just amazingly delicious. The flavor's more concentrated. It's sweeter. It's more complex. It's not just sweetness. And it just blows away people in the dining room.

Appeared: Ruth Reichl | Acclaimed Food Writer