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Kale + Brussels Sprouts

Meryle Evans - June 2014

New York City—No, it’s not the star of a satirical skit on Portlandia. Lollipops™, a cross between red kale and Brussels sprouts, took a bow at “Bite: A Tasty State of Mind,” Baldor’s recent showcase of 120 of its top purveyors. The hybrid kale sprout was developed by Tozer Seeds, a British vegetable breeding company, and Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. It’s grown by Salad Savoy in Salinas, California. Fork-sized, with curly green leaves and red stalks and a tangy, bittersweet flavor, Lollipops are just being discovered by chefs while health nuts enjoy the double dose of Vitamins B6 and C (as compared to its parents).

Over 1,200 New York area chefs, restaurateurs, and caterers descended on Manhattan's Metropolitan Pavilion on April 21 during Baldor Specialty Foods day-long noshing marathon, to nibble on a new hybrid vegetable, sip lemonade made with pink lemons, and sprinkle crunchy basil sugar crystals on fresh berries. Titled "Bite, a Tasty State of Mind," the event showcased products from over 120 of the firm's top purveyors, offered seminars featuring culinary luminaries, and concluded with a gala speakeasy finale.

Bronx-based Baldor's vendors, ranging from locally sourced Brooklyn Brine to avocados from Mexico, brought along an array of new provisions, including three from California. The hybrid vegetable, named Lollipops, a cross between red kale and Brussels sprouts, was developed by an English company, Tazer seeds, and is grown by Salad Savoy in Salinas. Fork-sized, with curly green leaves and red stalks and a tangy, bittersweet flavor, Lollipops are just being discovered by chefs for use in a variety of dishes from salad to stir-fries. From San Marcos in the San Diego area, the microgreens company, Fresh Origins, has introduced new flavors of herb, flower, and fruit crystals to sprinkle on both sweet and savory foods, or on the rim of cocktail glasses. The rainbow of colors and flavors includes golden yellow fennel, deep red cranberry, and bright green cilantro. From Santa Paula, Limoneira's pink-fleshed, green-striped lemons were admired as an attractive addition to the cocktail bar.

For respite from sampling artisan cheeses, charcuterie, and myriad other provisions, attendees listened to presentations on the role of women in the industry, and on the state of farming in New York from chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin, Liz Newmark of Great Performances, Robert Kaufelt of Murray's Cheese, and editor Brian Halweil of Edible, describing the surging bounty available from Empire State farmers. On a panel about the evolution of the New York restaurant scene over the past three decades, moderated by Baldor president Michael Muzyk, chef Alfred Portale, whose Gotham Bar and Grill is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, cited two major changes: the current availability of top-notch ingredients, so different from the days when he cruised the aisles of the original Balducci's, the specialty store two blocks away from the restaurant, for inspiration; and the customer, "now much more sophisticated, demanding, and interested—that is a real pleasure."

Sharing the platform, Drew Nieporent of Myriad Restaurant Group recalled the intimidating high-end French restaurants that dominated New York Cityfine dining before he opened Montrachet in TriBeCa in 1985, "changing a lot of what dining was about and making restaurants more accessible." Explaining his dollar-wise decision to open in a then-unfashionable area, because uptown real estate was so expensive, Nieporent continued, "The times have to work for you, and you have to be ambitious." He quickly jumped at the chance to open a second restaurant with Robert De Niro after finding an abandoned coffee factory: "Space is like a person. Right away you have a relationship, and right away I knew this space would be dynamite—and that was Tribeca Grill." Having since opened over 35 restaurants, Nieporent advised, "Life goes fast, strike while the kettle is hot."

Equally obsessed with location, and now assembling a rapidly expanding restaurant portfolio, Jeff Zalaznick and Mario Carbone, two of the three partners, along with Rich Torrisi, of Major Food Group, agreed that the trend Nieporent started "has carried on currently in our generation—friendly, casual, but still in the mold of fine cooking." Their initial ventures, Torrisi and Parm on Mulberry Street, reflect the ambience of an old-fashioned grocery store, while Carbone in Greenwich Village pays homage to their predecessor in the space, 90 year old Rocco's. "We're very passionate about New York City history," Zalaznick notes. "In our minds, what we did was bring Rocco's back to the glory that it was."

By the time the session ended, vendors were packing up leftovers, leaving 15,000 pounds of food to donate to City Harvest. But the party was just beginning as the Metropolitan Pavilion was transformed into a speakeasy with a jazz band, waitresses passing around cocktails, more to eat, and reflections on the legacy of the Balducci family and their bite of the Big Apple.