20 Years of SAVEUR: Shape Shifters

In honor of the 20th anniversary of SAVEUR, we asked some of the people who taught us the most to each peruse a year's worth of issues and to reflect on them. Here, Harold McGee on a story from our May 2008 issue.

In his May 2008 Saveur article, “Shape Shifters,” author Frederick Kaufman visits a professor at Ohio State University who studies plant genes that control the shapes of fruits and vegetables. The prof has developed proprietary software for shape analysis and has a patent pending on one shape gene but refuses to hint at what new gene she’s hunting. Rereading Kaufman’s article, with its palpable enthusiasm and frustration, I wish he had seen and tasted what I did last September at a gathering at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. There, Dan Barber introduced a starry conclave of 40-plus fellow chefs (among them Ferran Adrià, April Bloomfield, and Daniel Humm) to a group of university scientists and independent seed breeders, all eager to use the best of traditional and modern breeding tools to develop the produce and grains of the chefs’ dreams. Openly, collaboratively, we discussed the future of food, and we ate. The breeders described peppers developed for aroma rather than heat, tomatoes for resistance to the periodically devastating late blight, wheats for making lighter-textured whole-grain bread, maltlike syrups to replace commodity sugar. We dined on new varieties of potato and winter squash and that startlingly good bread. This new chefs and breeders collective promises to shift much more than shapes.

Harold McGee is a food-science writer.