Brad Farmerie is executive chef at Saxon + Parole, a Michelin-starred lower manhattan eatery and bar. His first restaurant Public, which earned him two James Beard Awards and a Michelin Star, will close its doors this weekend. Farmerie is one of the handful of chefs serving up the famed Impossible Burger, a plant-based burger that reportedly cooks, tastes, and bleeds like beef.
On June 7 at Future Food Tech in New York City, Farmerie will participate in a fireside chat with David Lee of Impossible Foods about the role of restaurants in shaping consumer demand for new foods. We caught up with the chef to find out how he’s incorporated tech and innovation into his farm-to-table philosophy and why he’s all-in with today’s hottest plant-based burger.
You recently launched the menu for airline JetBlue’s “Mint” service. How did you find the experience of transferring what you do to an airplane?
It’s been an amazing experience. When they first approached us I thought it was a horrible idea because many people have tried to do it well and have not done it well. But we like a challenge and we like something new and so I thought that it was definitely a challenge to go into a food and hospitality area that was renowned for being bad and try to fix it and I think that we’ve had a lot of success in part because JetBlue is so young and flexible and exciting and interesting. They’re not set in their ways like some of the other airlines might be.
How did you find the supply side of this relationship? I’m assuming you don’t get to do the sourcing, so how did you find working with that dynamic?
We mandate a lot of the ingredients that they have to use, which is interesting because we use a small pasta producer in Brooklyn, we use certain farms, certain cuts of meat. We use Pat La Freida dry-aged steaks. We were pretty strict about what exactly we wanted and we’re not really flexible in that department because we want to make sure that the food tastes the same way that it does on the ground.
Every single one of our ingredients is locked up. That’s very specific for JetBlue.
Is it normal in the airline industry for the food to be locked up and separated?
No. And I think our biggest advantage was that we had no idea what was normal. We kind of played out exactly what we wanted and they said ‘It’s not really done that way’ and we said ‘We don’t care.’
Future Food-Tech is coming up and you’re on a panel with Impossible Burger. It’s been a few months since you started serving it, so why don’t you tell us how that’s going?
That is another relationship I feel very lucky to be a part of. When I started reading about the Impossible Burger I got really excited. I really like new ingredients. I really like charcuterie but I also really like vegetarian food and it’s a realm that’s been overlooked and that’s why I really like to cook vegetarian dishes to show that there can be depth of flavor, there can be unique twists, and there can be memorable moments. I think that the Impossible Burger does all of that. It makes my job as a chef very easy because I don’t have to manipulate it, I can just highlight it. I’m starting off with something that’s delicious on its own and as a chef all I have to do is not mess it up.
How does the Impossible Burger fit in with your existing sourcing ethos?
To be honest, I just see the Impossible meat as a recipe. It’s the same as if you bought a really amazing cured salami from Italy or from the guys at Olympic Provisions in Portland. They are the ones that put those together. They decided the ratios of those ingredients. They decided how long to age it. And if you look at the Impossible Burger, you’re looking at the same thing. They decided the ratios in it, they decided the amount of haemoglobin. They decide all of those things.
I see Impossible Meat in the same fashion. It is a recipe but so is cheese, so is salami, so is charcuterie. As a chef, you’re not only getting raw ingredients dropped off all day, you’re getting things that have gone through a process.
Do you think that the greater impact is in presenting these alternative choices to consumers and letting them choose or in making choices for them in the way that you source behind the scenes?
I think it’s 50/50. Ten years ago if you gave any red-blooded American a bowl full of kale, would they enjoy it? Probably not. Chefs look at ingredients and think about how they can present them, or re-present them or change peoples’ minds about them. I think thats important.
Is there anything else in restaurant tech that you’re excited about?
I would say Spacious [a company turning restaurants without breakfast or lunch service into coworking spaces during the day]. It’s not only connecting people with a work environment that is comfortable and amazing, but obviously it’s a huge benefit financially to the restaurant, bringing people that are naturally going to be finishing up work right when you’re setting up the bar.
What other food tech are you looking at?
It’s nothing new, but I think making water circulators more affordable and smaller – it used to be $800 or $900 and it would have to go in a small suitcase. Now they are extremely small and they are just over $100. I think sous vide has become — I won’t say mainstream — but it’s accepted and some of the things that were being done with it in the beginning turned out awful, but were interesting; they have gone out the window and now people actually understand how to use it.
Are you ready for cultured burgers or lab-grown meat?
I don’t think I am. That’s a whole different kettle of fish that I don’t think I’m ready for. I can’t even explain exactly why, but it weirds me out a little bit.