A philosopher, an artist, and a farmer walk into a bar…
Sounds like the start of a good joke, doesn’t it? But here’s the punchline: Peter Robbins is the bartender and he’s pouring Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot into all three of their wine glasses with his right hand while he reads Proust in his left.
Meet Noah Robbins of Ark Foods
It’s incidental that Noah Robbins grows specialty peppers. Really, he’s an artist and a philosopher. Sure, he farms for a living—but he’s more than a farmer. Peter and his son Noah Robbins (pictured above) are bringing exclusive farmers market quality produce to chefs-at-large for specialized, but accessible, menu planning.
It’s All in the Seeds
Ark Foods is walking the fine line between the farmer’s market specialty produce, and big agriculture’s commodity vegetables grown monoculturally. They research and develop seed varieties best suited to make the leap from needing to be coddled by hand, to acreage dedication and a regional truck journey. In a sense, they are scaling specialty produce. That’s a big step for a little seed to take, and Peter and Noah know how to nurture this growth.
They believe that taste should not be a function of price. They have the business acumen to slash the farmer’s market prices to wholesale prices, coupled with delivery to the chef’s door through a trusted business partner such as FreshPoint. Their strategy provides almost year-round availability using farm rotation up and down the East Coast across six states. Most importantly, Ark Foods has the integrity—and quality—to pull off this delicate feat.
Now that you got to know your farmer a bit, let’s read about four fantastic vegetables they are growing to set today’s trends.
Jimmy Nardello Pepper
Jimmy Nardello. This name makes me wish this guy would pick me up on a Saturday night and take me dancing in a red dress. Like tango dancing. And he would know all the moves. This name’s got swagger.
Alas, he’s just a red pepper. A long, thin, bright red pepper with a wonderful sweet taste. Named after Giuseppe Nardello, the Italian immigrant who brought the seeds with him in 1887. Known as the Italian frying pepper, it can also be enjoyed eaten raw in salads, gazpacho, on pizzas, and in sauce making.
The Robbins’ spent more than three years and 60,000 hand-scraped seeds to find just the right seed variety for success. Why? Jimmy Nardello’s must be picked ripe—and when it comes to a red pepper, there is nowhere else to go but decay. They found the right formula with this thin-skinned, incredible-tasting pepper.
Aji Dulce Pepper
The Ají Dulce pepper is primarily used in Puerto Rican cuisine and is known for its pivotal role in sofrito. Commonly referred to as Cachucha, they are aromatic and have a sweet, fruity-almost-smoky flavor mixed with mild heat. This squat little light green to fiery orange-red pepper debunks the misconception that heat is needed for flavor. Really, it’s the depth of flavor that chefs are looking for. The Ají Dulce is just the pepper for the job with its pure rich taste.
This one is a bit easier to grow than the Jimmy Nardello’s and are available now.
Just think of the glorious taste of the Habanero pepper without the heat. That’s what you can expect when you take a bite of Ark Foods’ Habanada pepper. This new pepper was bred by Michael Mazourek of Cornell University and traditionally selected by small, independent farmers for their incredible flavor for sale at farmers markets. The aroma and floral essence without heat creates an amazing flavor profile that makes these little guys the dream pepper.
Their maturation rate of this open-pollinated plant is four times slower than the average pepper. As a grower of this new pepper, Ark Foods has the challenge of not leaving it behind as the rest of the field harvest moves on.
Best uses for the Habanada are grilled, salsa, sauces, and maybe even a jerk recipe for those who wish to have the flavor but not the heat…or as Peter Robbins says, “We provide colors on a palette; chefs do the painting.”
Ark Foods is the only southern grower of Honeynut squash, bred (again, by Michael Mazourek) for thoughtful flavor and thin skin that is edible. They like to call this a better butternut. As plant-based cuisine becomes the norm, it makes a perfect center-of-the-plate item with its individual portion growing size.
The staggered planting between NY, GA, and FL will allow availability to last (hopefully) through mid/late February, when normally it would sell out by mid-November.
For the autumn and winter holidays, try Honeynut squash with salted honey or maple syrup and ginger. Press some envelopes on the dessert menu by roasting and put a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the conveniently shaped seed pocket. Their higher sugar content makes is suitable for this application. The higher sugar content also makes their shelf life slightly shorter than its bigger butternut cousin.
As you can see, there’s a lot of thought and effort that goes into growing vegetables. Ark Foods is all about the accessibility of flavor. They take the gifts of the farmer’s markets around the country and bring them to chefs from all walks of life, because they believe vegetables are remarkable in and of themselves. Follow Ark Foods on Instagram
Content provided by Francy Deskin, the Specialties Coordinator for FreshPoint South Florida. She has spent 20+ years in kitchens, including as an Executive Chef, and she loves all things food. Follow FreshPoint South Florida on Facebook and Instagram.
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