GMOs

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I saw the future in Newark, New Jersey. It was green. Really green. No GMOS, no pesticides and it was delicious. Aero Farms is a high-tech farm that has been working for a few years now. It not only is growing beyond it’s million pounds of greens, but is inspiring the community. In fact it has donated a small farm apparatus to the local charter school Phillips Academy. The academy has an amazing school kitchen program and a roof top garden. I was pleasantly surprised to meet one of ICC’s graduates there, Robert Wallauer, who is their chef and Food Service Director.  The program itself is run by Ecospaces Education, lead by the dynamic Program Director Frank Mentesana. It is no wonder that Michelle Obama chose the school last month to visit!

Robert Wallauer and Frank Mentesana

Now what really makes these greens exciting is that with lighting and patented growing medium technologies Aero Farm is making tenderer and exquisitely delicious greens. I for one, never hopped on the kale bandwagon but the baby kale I tasted in Newark was so tender, with a flavor that screamed out for a touch of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil that I instantly became a fan. The micro watercress as crunchy, refreshing and I popped like candy.

For us gardeners to hear that seeds germinate and grow in a matter of days, not weeks is nothing short of miraculous. Now, you might say you are committed to the earth and soil grown greens. As a lifelong gardener, I would have said that too until I think now of the plight of the world.

We have 8 million people living in NYC alone. We want them to eat fresh produce every day. In an ideal nutritious world that is 58 million servings a week. The land around NYC is developed and the few open spaces are too expensive for farming. If we are serious about fresh produce we need to look to the underdeveloped suburbs around our cities.
Aero Farms is leading the way. And I am fully on board that bandwagon!

A big shout out to Mark Oshima and the Aero Farm team for inviting me to Newark. They are changing the world.

Marc Oshima

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Dan Barber of Blue Hill NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barns for my radio show, Chef’s Story. It wasn’t the usual interview where I ask all about his childhood, background, influences etc. I dove right into thorny topics with him. Dan as you might know has written a seminal book, The Third Plate. It is unapologetic. It cautions, enlightens and instructs us on the dynamic and evolutionary trajectory our food system is on. It is as frightening and exciting as a Transformer movie.

Dan Barber, The Third Plate, photo of Dan: Mark Ostow, photos courtesy of Blue Hill at Stone Barns

One aspect of our talk really struck me and I want to share it with you. Vegetables are not benign to the earth. They need a lot of water, fertilizing and human labor. They take a lot of land. Dan is not an opponent of vegetables, but he is first and foremost a responsible guardian of the earth. He believes we can all live sustainably, if we live an educated, humbled and moderate life. We should understand not just the nutrients and calories in our food but what I will coin here, its earth factor (EF). What does it take from our earth to produce a tomato, a pound of beef, an acre of GMO corn?

Dan used the term ‘the tomato is the hummer of the vegetable/fruit world.’ It uses a massive amount of water: 13 gallons per tomato. So can we be righteous eating a tomato from drought stricken California? Over eating a marbled 16 ounce T- bone steak? Should we avoid both as excessive EF? Interesting.

I do think socially conscious people want to know what they are eating. And they have a right to know. But next to the ingredients and nutrition labeling, don’t we need and want to know the EF factor too? I would.

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Dorothy w/Daniel Humm

Last Monday was a stellar September day. Not only was the sky peacock blue and the air tinged with perfect fall crispness but I was spending the day with many of the top chefs in the world at the idyllic Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, NY. Joan Roca, Michel Gras, Daniel Humm, Ferran Adria and so many other super stars joined Dan Barber, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Blue Hill NYC to do a deep dive on seeds and genetic engineering. What? Did you say genetic engineering? Are these chefs into GMOs? Actually not.

Stone Barns Center

From top left clockwise: Ferran Adria, Joan Roca, Adam Kaye, Floyd Cardoz

L to R: Michel Gras, Dan Barber, Dorothy, Francois Payard, Daniel Humm

What they heard from world glass genetic breeders and discussed among themselves from 10 am to 7:30 pm is the concept of chefs working with genetic breeders to create exquisite fruits, vegetables and grains. Actually that is something that nature itself has been doing for the past 10,000 years. Think a nectarine, which is a cross between a peach and a plum. How is that different from GMOs? GMOs are genetic transfers between two species that would not cross pollinate in nature. Think fish gene inserted into a tomato.

Ferran Adria

Acorn Squash

So, what did we learn? That genes are place sensitive. Have you ever brought home seeds from a vacation, planted them and found them not to be as delicious as your lingering memory?  There is a reason for that. Great seed growers plant hundreds of seeds and then watch for the one or two plants that are vibrant survivors in their field tests. Your soil may not have the same characteristics as the test fields and hence, the attributes of the seed might not perform as well in your backyard in Brooklyn. You might start thinking about saving the seeds from the best tasting tomato in your veggie garden and become a geneticist yourself. I think a lot of the chefs left thinking they were on to expanding their horizons in that direction.

Menu courtesy of Stone Barns Center

After yesterday it seems so obvious that chefs in their never ending quest for the most delicious meal, will now have to go beyond the farm and into the labs of these seed breeders. It is there that they can select, test, harvest, select, test, harvest, select… and here we thought farm to table would be the ultimate trend. Now we have conception to compost! I never saw so many chefs, so excited. We ate a dinner of the aforementioned conceptions: see Gaston Acurio’s squash, which has just a number not a name. I’d also like to mention that we at The International Culinary Center were so honored that our Farm to Table students were asked to help out in the kitchen with these iconic chefs. A new challenge in the top ranks of the culinary universe!

ICC Students

You heard it here first, look for the names of seed breeders on your next menu!

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