So here's the thing: I'm not your average executive. On most days, you won't find me sitting behind a desk. Work for me is scouring the globe in search of extraordinary food and developing relationships with the people who produce it. And do you know where extraordinary food comes from? Not a factory, not a shiny plastic wrapper. You guessed it -- straight from nature. On my travels, I have met some amazing and innovative men and women in the food industry: farmers, ranchers and fisherman, folks that spend their days in the hot Arizona sun or the frigid rolling Nova Scotian seas harvesting the best tasting food around. They're doing right by the species (whether it's a melon or a swordfish), the consumer, and ultimately and most importantly, by the planet.
I've been in some kind of food business for the better part of my life, both preparing and purveying; I'm an eternal student of the subject. I am in continuous awe of these people, their successes, trials and tribulations, and I try to learn as much from them as I can.
One of my more recent trips was to central California to visit Shanley Farms, which has been owned and run by Jim Shanley and his family for almost 15 years. One of the Shanley's premier crops is the finger lime. Sounds made up but it's actually delicious. It's like a pomegranate meets a gherkin ( in look, not taste) meets, well, a lime. Its nickname is "citrus caviar." I like to pair finger limes with my seafood and cocktails.
Have you ever heard of a farm-grown truffle? I always thought they came from troll-roamed forests but the Shanleys are thinking outside the box -- and the forest. They're planting over 10,000 oak trees to cultivate truffles to make this happen. Another unexpected item from the Shanley's: coffee. They are growing one of the only commercially grown coffee crops in the continental U.S. And the list of "experimental" plantings goes on: dragon fruit (most commonly found in Vietnam) and passion fruit (native to South America) are expected next year. They also grow some of the best figs and kiwis I've ever tasted. And for flavor, the terroir (the unique marriage of geography, geology and climate of a certain place) of Morro Bay -- where Shanley Farm is located -- produces the best tasting avocado I've ever had.
All of their products are rare and delicious, no doubt. But what really sets the Shanleys apart is their decision to harvest products only once they have reached their peak maturity and flavor profile. That may not sound like a big deal, but due to the workings of the ever-complicated food supply chain, many farmers are forced to pick produce before it's ready. All across the world farmers are being forced to grow our fruits and vegetables for transport rather taste. And let's face it. We shouldn't grow our strawberries to be Twinkies. Fruit is supposed to rot! So while that strawberry you buy may look nice, it's really a dull, bland, pretty tasteless fruit that has been grown to travel, sit in a store and then sit in your refrigerator before you actually eat it.
Think about it. When's the last time you've loved a piece of fruit? I mean, really, truly loved? Who wants to eat a dry, white-centered strawberry? And there's no way our kids are eating their fruits and vegetables if they don't taste great. They'll choose artificially sweetened treats over the sad little strawberry every time. What can you do to fight the tasteless food battle? Let's all re-learn what fresh, delicious food look and taste like. Let's hold retailers to a higher taste standard and return items that don't taste great. Let's all embrace our inner famers. Let's buy from local farmers when we can and reverse the cycle of farm-onomics. Wherever and however you buy your produce, buy it seasonally. That means oranges in January and corn in July. You will automatically be supporting farmers like the Shanleys... and eating better tasting fruits and vegetables.