Diners who can make the pilgrimage to chef Dan Barber’s widely acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns — a restaurant Adam Platt called the absolute best in New York — to experience the kitchen’s tour de force commitment to produce also get to eat ingredients that were, in effect, developed especially for Barber. They’ll find things like a special, super-concentrated (and tiny) squash, a distinctively sugary tomato, bread baked with bespoke wheat, or corn that almost went extinct. His family grows a lot of that produce themselves on Blue Hill Farm, but Barber, who apparently doesn’t have enough to do, has now also partnered with some of the vegetable breeders he works with to create a new company called Row 7 that hooks amateur gardeners up with the seeds of ingredients that have been specifically developed with flavor in mind.
Packets went on sale today at Row 7’s website for seven types of gourds and other vegetables: There’s an experimental cucumber with extra-green flesh; the Badger Flame beet; the Robin’s Koginut squash, plus two other gourd varieties billed as version 2.0 of Blue Hill’s famed Honeynut; a new potato called Upstate Abundance; and the Habanada, a pepper that tastes like a habañero “minus the burn.”
Much like the Barber family’s other food-tech efforts, Row 7 tried to assemble the best agricultural minds available — investors include Walter Robb, the ex co-CEO of Whole Foods, and Richard Schnieders, the former CEO of Sysco Foods, the world’s biggest food distributor. The company’s seed-to-table vision is creating a market for plants that, in some cases, are still works in progress. For example, the cucumber and new-and-improved Honeynut are both listed as trial varieties that “invite chefs, growers, and eaters to share feedback from the field and kitchen.”
In the end, Barber’s team hopes to popularize produce that chefs had a hand in creating, and give farmers a way of eventually scaling them for national supermarket chains. As Barber tells the Times, “Part of the goal of the company is not only to increase the flavor of vegetables: It’s to look at how we, as chefs, can change the culture of eating.”