Seed to Salad

Sweet­green and chef Dan Bar­ber are re­think­ing or­ganic from the ground up.

Fast Company - - Contents - By Adele Peters Il­lus­tra­tion by Mauco Sosa

Row 7 is in­spir­ing Sweet­green to write recipes at the breed­ing level.

This fall, an ul­tra-

fla­vor­ful va­ri­ety of squash will be­gin ap­pear­ing on the menus of fast-casual salad chain Sweet­green. Called Robin’s Koginut, the round, bronze-col­ored veg­etable was cre­ated by Row 7, a seven-month-old seed com­pany co­founded by Blue Hill chef (and farm-to-table cham­pion) Dan Bar­ber, Cor­nell Univer­sity veg­etable breeder Michael Ma­zourek, and seed pro­ducer Matthew Goldfarb. The com­pany se­lec­tively breeds squash, beets, pota­toes, and other veg­eta­bles to pri­or­i­tize fla­vor along with yield, stora­bil­ity, and dis­ease re­sis­tance—mak­ing them eas­ier to grow or­gan­i­cally. Row 7’s seed-totable ap­proach has earned it fans among high-end chefs. But the Sweet­green part­ner­ship broad­ens its reach, part of Bar­ber’s ul­ti­mate goal “to get this out of my kitchen and into the food chain,” he says. Here’s how he’s getting every­day con­sumers to em­brace his pro­duce.

1 Bar­ber chal­lenged

Ma­zourek a few years ago to develop a squash that com­bined the rich fla­vor of a but­ter­nut with the smooth, dry tex­ture of Ja­pan’s kabocha va­ri­etal. Ma­zourek hand-pol­li­nated squash un­til he had cross­bred a promis­ing new strain, called Robin’s Koginut.

2 Ma­zourek’s team planted and

har­vested the squash, and be­gan test­ing it for fla­vor, nutri­tion, and other fac­tors, in­clud­ing re­sis­tance to pests and shelf sta­bil­ity. The Koginut ex­celled. Bar­ber was also drawn to its shape, which could dou­ble as a serv­ing bowl. The pair be­gan shar­ing the seeds with part­ner farm­ers.

3 With Row 7’s

launch ear­lier this

year, Sweet­green saw an op­por­tu­nity to em­brace “the next level of trans­parency” in food, says co­founder and CO-CEO Ni­co­las Jam­met. The chain bought more than 100,000 seeds (with an ex­pected yield of 236,000 pounds), and in May, worked with its farmer net­work to plant them on six farms across the coun­try, of­fer­ing Row 7 the first large-scale test of how the squash per­forms in dif­fer­ent cli­mates and soils.

4 Over the sum­mer, Sweet­green’s culi­nary

team be­gan plan­ning a dish to show­case the squash. Bar­ber rec­om­mended a sim­ple prepa­ra­tion— roasted with salt and pep­per—to demon­strate how good the squash tastes on its own. That’s part of the com­pany’s mis­sion, he says: “to write a recipe at the breed­ing level.”

5 A test kitchen at Sweet­green’s

head­quar­ters, in Cul­ver City, Cal­i­for­nia, will be­gin serv­ing the Koginut dish to cus­tomers in Oc­to­ber, al­low­ing the culi­nary team to make any last-minute tweaks to the recipe. In Novem­ber, the dish will ap­pear on the menu at all of Sweet­green’s 89 lo­ca­tions na­tion­wide.

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