Vegetables are being elevated to connoisseur, gourmet status by a string of new retail concepts and creative partnerships.
New gallery-like stores are appearing, celebrating the vegetable in the same way fine wines, meats and artisan cheeses—or even fragrances and handbags—are acknowledged. At the same time, new campaigns and partnerships are seeking to elevate and heroize unique strains or varieties for their flavor profile.
Around New York, posters slapped across hip neighborhoods are promoting Sweetgreen’s latest collaboration: designer squash. The fashionable salad chain partnered with vegetable breeders at Row 7, a bespoke seed company, to offer a new strain of squash called Robin’s Koginut. Bred for ultimate flavor and nutrition, the customized squash was introduced to Sweetgreen’s menu in October 2018, bringing a sense of exclusivity to salads and sides. Row 7 launched in February 2018; cofounder and chef Dan Barber told MindBodyGreen that its mission is “to make flavorful, nutritious produce available for dining rooms and kitchen tables everywhere,” thus “ensuring that flavor doesn’t only sit in a high-end restaurant and becomes an everyday pleasure.”
Meanwhile, retail environments are also elevating vegetables into daily indulgences with lavish settings. Harrods has appointed a “vegetable butcher” which offers “bespoke cuts and blends” against a backdrop of luxury cues and moody lighting usually reserved for fashion boutiques. The luxury retailer’s reimagined Food Halls opened in November 2018, bringing the elite aesthetic of high-end shopping to produce. “Our Food Halls offer a sensory experience, a buzz and an air of celebration for the ingredients combined with the grandeur of the environment,” says Alex Dower, former director of food and restaurants at Harrods.
Curated produce shop Natoora, described by design bible Wallpaper* as the “Aesop of vegetables,” opened in London in October 2018. The store displays vegetables as if they’re works of art, laid out on smooth concrete shelves with labels akin to museum captions and an attentiveness to provenance, illuminated under tube lights from luxury lighting designer PS Lab. “Many of our growers are true artists,” says Natoora CEO and founder Franco Fubini, and the store is designed to reflect this.
“The thought and care that has gone into the design of our store is just the beginning of a food-system revolution,” says Fubini. “Now more than ever, seeking out flavor and seasonality in produce is paramount—not only from an environmental perspective but also in terms of our cultural heritage. We need to start seeing farming in terms of craftsmanship.”
The trend is a natural progression that reflects evolving consumer habits. Veganism and plant-based diets are on the rise; in the United Kingdom alone, eight million people now identify as vegan or vegetarian, according to the Telegraph. The past few years have seen chefs from Blue Hill’s Dan Barber to Noma’s René Redzepi launching vegetable-centric menus. Noma even debuted an entire “vegetable season” menu in 2018, serving only vegetables from June through September.
As people turn en masse to vegetable-based menus, the intellectualizing of flavors and processes is being reinvigorated—as it has been with other food categories from coffee to olive oil. Art gallery city farms are sure to be next …