Dan Barber's Custom Squash Will Get Its Own Specialty Bowl at Sweetgreen
When chefs create a recipe or dish, it's not uncommon for them to check in with Mother Nature and their local farmers, determining what’s in season, what’s at its peak, and which ingredients are the best fit for the desired preparation. But simply relegating the possible ingredient list to whatever’s already on the market wasn’t good enough for Dan Barber. That's partly why the chef and restaurateur co-founded Row 7, a company that specializes in developing flavorful and disease-resistant varieties of produce crops. Together, along with a Cornell University vegetable breeder, they developed a new breed of squash which will make its mass-market debut on the menu at salad chain Sweetgreen later this fall.
The Robin’s Koginut squash is a hybrid that reportedly blends the smooth, even texture of Japanese kabocha squash with the rich flavor of butternut squash, according to Fast Company (which also published a fascinating step-by-step look at just how one custom-creates a squash). The squash will first be served at Sweetgreen's test kitchen restaurant in Culver City, CA in October, before going nationwide. Additionally, the resulting dish, whatever it may be, is actually being built around the custom squash. Barber said one component of Row 7’s mission is “to write a recipe at the breeding level.”
"Good flavor and changing the food system go hand in hand," Barber told Food & Wine back in Feburary. "When you select for flavor from the very beginning, you’re also selecting for qualities like nutrition. And you’re selecting for soil health, too, because you’re seeking out varieties that thrive under organic conditions—the systems that produce the most delicious food. It turns out being greedy for good food is a pretty good way to improve our diets and our landscapes."
Of course, over the history of agriculture, plants have long been manipulated to produce ideal results for their most marketable applications. Whether or not this new squash is a first in its overall methodology, the concept of developing a bespoke piece of produce for a chef would seem to be an attractive option for any culinary mind itching to create something new or signature for their menu. Row 7 already does so for higher-end chefs. With greater exposure furnished by the Sweetgreen partnership, it seems the era of customizable fruits and vegetables just may be upon us.