Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Eat and tell

Often when I travel, I catch up on podcasts that I've been accumulating and haven't taken the time to listen to. On my recent trip I listened to an item from WNYC's Leonard Lopate show from about a month ago, a discussion with and about chefs. In that (about sixteen and a half minutes in, if you want to listen to it yourself), chef and restaurant owner Dan Barber told a story that I liked and want to relate here. So here it is, transcribed and slightly edited to make it smoother to read, and with no further comment:
What we try and do at the restaurant is... well, “teach people” sounds so, I don't know, didactic. I mean, it's much more about telling stories about where the food is coming from that we're putting on the menu and that we're excited about. And so we often talk about carrots because we grow a lot of carrots, we grow older varieties of carrots that have tons of flavour to them and are naturally just sweet and delicious.

I'd been doing experiments with these different varieties, and on one occasion we tried to grow a carrot that was infused with almond flavour. We took hundreds of pounds of almond dust, which is the almond extract after pressing for the almond oil, that would usually be thrown away, and so I got it from this company and we planted hundreds of pounds of it on the carrot fields and tried to infuse the carrots with almonds, and it was a complete disaster, but... 'cause the carrots never soaked up any almond flavour, but... but it wasn't a disaster because we were able to tell the story about what we were trying to do, and in fact the amazing thing is, we had this big meal in celebration of the almond carrot — which had no almond flavour — but we ended up telling the story and so people tasted almonds because they had been involved in the process of growing... this whole story, this whole narrative around growing almond carrots

Even though it was a complete failure, it was a complete success in the end because they loved the story and they felt connected to the carrot and to agriculture. And it's sort of this thing that I think Jacques was alluding to, that it's kind of hard-wired for that, and you can taste things that you otherwise wouldn't be able to taste, through stories.

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