Food Politics

Even the Bananas at the French Laundry Are Fancy

You just know Gros Michels (translation: Big Mike) are named after somebody.
You just know Gros Michels (translation: Big Mike) are named after somebody. Photo:

You may recall last month we pointed you toward the New Yorker story about the fungus that is threatening to wipe out Cavendish bananas, as well as the earlier fungus that eradicated the tastier Gros Michel (a.k.a. Big Mike) variety in the early twentieth century. So you’ll imagine our surprise when we saw Gros Michel bananas listed on the French Laundry’s menu last week. (It looks like they’ve been popping up on the restaurant’s menu for a while now.) We’d thought they were extinct, but at Thomas Keller’s restaurant, they were puréed and served with the sorbet course. Did Keller & Co. somehow manage to resurrect the once-gone banana? We wouldn’t put it past them! So we called them up and learned that their source is local fruit and vegetable supplier Cooks Company Produce, who must want to keep on tight lid on where they get these fancy-schmancy bananas — they didn’t return our calls asking who grows the bananas for them. So we sniffed around a little because, honestly, we kind of wanted some for ourselves.

A 2008 posting on a banana message board (yes, there is such a thing) indicated that Gros Michels are being grown in Equador under the cultivar codename Seda. The post asserts, “These are the Gros Michels that survived the Panama Disease outbreak back in the day. We no longer export them.” It goes on, “I think some of the California growers might have them … ” It seems that there are at least a few people out there with Gros Michel plants in their yards (like the person who shot the photo at right), and a 2008 article notes that growers in the Congo have been cultivating Gros Michels in small plots alongside plantains to create genetic diversity. Furthermore, a CHOWhounder mentions that Gros Michels are being used by growers to hybridize a new disease-resistant banana.

So you see, folks! They’re out there! And they’ve even made it to the wholesale level, at least in produce-blessed San Francisco.

Earlier: Better Eat Those Bananas … While You Still Can [Grub Street]
Can This Fruit Be Saved? [Popular Science]

Even the Bananas at the French Laundry Are Fancy