As chefs develop their menus, certain Chef’s Garden products become their favorites – with one of the “favorites” being trying out what’s new and innovative. To continue to meet the demand for innovation, we partner with plant breeders such as Fred Hempel of Artisan Seeds.
Fred is a developmental biologist by trade with a Ph.D. in plant sciences who informally began breeding tomatoes around 2001 and turned pro in 2006. His specialty? Striped tomatoes that burst with flavor!
People, including chefs, love the aesthetics of stripes because they are so striking. In the past, though, there weren’t a lot of varieties with great taste. So, Fred recognized that, if he could crossbreed tomatoes with an intriguing appearance with those featuring premiere taste, he could fill an underserved niche.
“I first heard about The Chef’s Garden,” Fred told us, “about ten years ago. Chefs told me about their great reputation and how they grow unique products. “Then, a few years ago, they began buying seeds of our new tomato releases as our breeding business was being built. This year, though, we really connected the dots and talked on a more in-depth basis so I could clearly understand how they did business, how I could help them develop their own new varieties”.”
This collaboration has evolved from The Chef’s Garden trialing Fred’s new releases to one where the farm is getting an early look at products that haven’t yet been released. “There is mutual benefit to this,” Fred says. “We get feedback from The Chef’s Garden about what performs well, and what tastes good. This allows us to make better decisions as we plan new tomato crosses and they get early looks at new products that might interest chefs.”
The partnership goes beyond past and present, as “we are thinking about projects we can develop together, planning for the future,” Fred shares. “I’m also consulting with them so they can develop their own exclusive products, putting our heads together to come up with new products based on their needs and direction.”
When asked about his overall perception of The Chef’s Garden, he responds this way: “Very adept at exploring, trying new things, selecting those that will be exciting for their customers, with a clear idea of what’s needed in their marketplace.”
Fred specializes in gourmet tomatoes, so we asked him to describe the Holy Grail. Characteristics mentioned included:
Appealing to plenty of people
Being significantly different from what people typically see
Not being perceived as too weird
One possibility is the Blush Cherry Tomato, which is elongated with pink marbling and yellow stripes. The taste is bright, sweet and tropical, and the plant grows well in the ground, as well as in containers.
Another possibility is the Sunrise Bumblebee Cherry Tomato. This is also a yellow cherry tomato with pink marbling and yellow stripes, with a similar taste and growing versatility.
He also addresses the issue of heirloom tomatoes, the longstanding standard. He says he appreciates them and often crossbreeds with them – or from tomatoes created from them. A percentage of people prefer to eat only heirlooms, of course, saying they won’t use hybrid tomatoes. But, once they discover how Artisan Seeds creates heirloom-derived products, they often become interested in these tomatoes.
It’s also important to note that these tomatoes are not genetically altered. And, here’s one other important consideration. Some people, especially as they age, figure their taste buds just aren’t as good as they used to be. After all, tomatoes don’t seem to have a lot of flavor anymore! In reality, though, they probably just need to eat really good tomatoes – and that’s exactly what the Artisan Seeds/Chef’s Garden collaboration produces.