New York’s first Variety Showcase, held last week near Union Square, was like an Apple event for people who geek out over actual fruit. Instead of unveiling new iPhones, the goal of this Showcase — which was produced by the Oregon-based Culinary Breeding Network group and GrowNYC — was to help connect plant breeders, farmers, and chefs so that they can, in turn, create, grow, and cook fruits and vegetables that are better in every sense imaginable.
It might seem straightforward, but the system for essentially creating new produce — and making people excited to eat it — requires input at every stage of development. “Most farmers don’t grow their own seeds,” explains Lane Selman, the founder of CBN. “They help a seed live up to its potential, but they can’t control the traits within the seed.” That work is done by plant breeders, who can make specific adjustments that will affect the field performance, appearance, and nutritional value of a fruit or vegetable.
Where it gets exciting is when chefs work with the breeders to help create traits that are specifically appealing to cooks. To take just one example: Oregon State University breeder Jim Myers developed a new habanero pepper with rounded shoulders and straight sides after a panel of local chefs commented that this new shape would create less waste during prep. They can also work to make vegetables that taste more concentrated, or look more appealing.