Back in September I was invited by a friend to attend an event put on by the Culinary Breeders Network. I didn't know much about it but the name piqued my interest and I got a kick out of joking to myself that it was going to be a gathering of foodies who love to procreate.
The mystery increased when we arrived at a HUGE warehouse in Portland's NW industrial district and we saw hordes of people milling in. The first surprise was how young and hip most people looked. It turns out that the room was full of the hottest chefs from one of the hottest food cities in the world (plus Bar Tartine in SF who I learned have their very own farm). The chefs were on hand presenting dishes they had prepared with the purpose of highlighting new food crops grown by local producers, artists in themselves. The ingredients ranged from groundnuts to parsley to tomatoes to shiso.
After a short intro and slideshow, us "tasters" were given spoons and set loose on a culinary mission the likes of which I will remember for the rest of my life. The perimeter of the warehouse was lined with tables grouped by ingredients in their raw state and as prepared as a dish.
One of the highlights for me was the corn table where Maya Lovelace of Mae had created a beautiful, creative, and exceedingly yummy dish showcasing the Chilean Choclo corn bred by Bill Tracy at The University of Wisconsin: fresh Choclo corn grits were served with sour "Blue Eyed Blonde" corn, pickled pepper & herb salad with fried chicken "corn nuts".
Next up, I had a parsley revelation. I'm a pretty big fan of parsley to begin with. I use it year round and it's in the garden nearly year round in Portland at times when few green things are in the veggie patch. This was a Macedonian Lanceleaf variety bred by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed. It has a feathery leaf shape and was used in a parsley and apple granita with buttermilk mousse created by Le Pigeon pastry chef Nora Antene. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. An explosion of tart, herbal iciness held up by a cloud of mousse.
As a tomato enthusiast, I felt a thrill at getting to taste the new introductions from Jim Meyer's tomato breeding program at Oregon State University (he's a tomato celebrity if such a thing exists and the creator of the Indigo tomato line). Log House Plants, my go-to source for interesting new vegetable varieties was on hand to present his varieties and breeding lines. Log House act as a gallerist of sorts for the gorgeous Indigo tomatoes of which there are now 19 varieties!! Indigo rose was the first to hit the market for home growers and as beautiful as it is, and full of healthy blue antioxidants from the anthocyanins, it has been a disappointment for many in the flavor department, myself included.
I'm happy to report that many of the new indigo tomatoes that Jim Meyer's and others have been developing are as tasty as they are beautiful. The hands down winner for me was Indigo Cherry Drops. It's a sweet cherry tomato with a rich, slightly smoky flavor. A little like a mini Paul Robeson, a personal favorite of mine.