The Seed of an Idea

What gardener, cook, or shopper at the farmers’ market hasn’t dreamed of being able to order up a vegetable to her own specifications? Say, a lovely ivory-colored carrot that actually has flavor, or a purple string bean that doesn’t wash out to gray-green when boiled, or a celery root that doesn’t have a dozen knobbly outcroppings that mean you waste a quarter of it as you pare? You fill in the blank. Every cook has a wish list.

So does every chef—and for the first time, chefs are realizing that they can make their dreams come true. The future has begun to take shape on both sides of the country with two groups that for the past few years were working in parallel and recently joined forces: the Culinary Breeding Network, in and around Portland, Oregon; and, near New York City, cooks, growers, and researchers associated with Dan Barber, who has become the country’s best-known chef who wants to advance farming techniques.

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