Seed to farm to table: Chef trying to change the way we eat brings his vision to Durham

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Friday, June 28, 2019
Chef hopes to change the way we eat
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Dan Barber has a seed-to-table vision.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- If you've been to Blue Hill at Stone Barns outside New York City, you know it's not cheap.

Tasting menus average close to $300. But the man behind that kitchen has started a different experience: to change the food system from the ground up.

That man is Dan Barber, executive chef and visionary at Blue Hill. He's also the founder of Row 7 Seed Company, which is all about sustainability.

According to its website, it "works alongside breeders, farmers, seedsmen, and chefs to develop new varieties of vegetables and grains that make an impact in the soil and at the table."

This month, he brought a Row 7 seed-to-table dinner to the Durham Hotel. Eight chefs from across the South came to cook and each chose a vegetable from the Seed 7 catalog.

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Scenes from the Row 7 seed-to-table dinner at the Durham Hotel (Photos courtesy of Row 7 Seed Company)

"The ultimate goal is to democratize the flavors and the nutrition," Barber said. "As I head into the twilight of my career, I don't want to be cooking for rarefied people who can afford this kind of luxury in their own homes. I want the ideas to permeate and to bleed into the culture."

Barber has plans to host these dinners all across the country.

"I want to spark an understanding and an awareness in this case," Barber said. "It's better that we have a seat at the table for the people who are creating the blueprints of our food system because if we don't, it's going to be the McDonalds and Walmarts that are going to be at the table."

Barber hosted the dinner with Andrea Reusing, chef at the Durham Hotel and at Lantern in Chapel Hill. The dinners cost $250 a head but Reusing said it's less about the dinners than the overall message.

"We think of cooks as people who are trying to charge $45 for a hamburger that has gold foil on it but really, we're about feeding people and what we feel good about is feeding people food that is super nutritious, super flavorful and very well-grown in terms of the environment," Reusing said. "North Carolina is a historically agricultural state: we grow food here, we were the second largest producer of sweet potatoes in the country; like, we grow a ton of food here but agriculture in North Carolina isn't necessarily serving North Carolinians."

In addition to the Row 7 seeds, chefs used six different crops from Southwind Produce, a local farm in Rougemont, for the dinner.

Southwind has been around five years and is on 10 acres of what used to be a tobacco farm.

"We grow grains, we grow market crops and we spend a lot of time on soil health, so we do a lot of cover cropping," said Angie Raines, owner and farmer.

Right now, Raines said they're growing tons of okra, eggplant and tomatoes, to name a few.

"Everything we grow here, we start from seed so this started in the greenhouse several weeks ago. We planted it out, we've got it on plastic here to keep the weeds down and mulched the sides," she said. "A lot of our stuff goes directly to the consumer at the farmer's market, which is really nice. We can talk about it directly with the people, talk about how it tastes and how it grows."

Southwind distributes at the Durham and Carrboro farmer's markets. It also sells to a variety of restaurants in the area including Mateo, Pizzeria Toro and Guglhupf.

"Supporting the farms around you creates a resiliency and it creates the opportunity to bring good, healthy food to the consumer," Raines said. "It also gives you control -- it gives you a voice. You can talk to your farmer; you can say what you're looking for and it's not just showing up on a truck from who knows where."

Proceeds from the dinner also benefited Durham Bowls, which pairs local chefs and school nutrition managers to develop recipes using local ingredients for Durham Public Schools.