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How Dan Barber helped Sweetgreen get a new squash on its menu

Sweetgreen and chef Dan Barber are rethinking organic from the ground up.

How Dan Barber helped Sweetgreen get a new squash on its menu
[Photo: courtesy of Sweetgreen]

This fall, an ultra-flavorful variety of squash will begin appearing on the menus of fast-casual salad chain Sweetgreen. Called Robin’s Koginut, the round, bronze-colored vegetable was created by Row 7, a seven-month-old seed company cofounded by Blue Hill chef (and farm-to-table champion) Dan Barber, Cornell University vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek, and seed producer Matthew Goldfarb. The company selectively breeds squash, beets, potatoes, and other vegetables to prioritize flavor along with yield, storability, and disease resistance–making them easier to grow organically. Row 7’s seed-to-table approach has earned it fans among high-end chefs. But the Sweetgreen partnership broadens its reach, part of Barber’s ultimate goal “to get this out of my kitchen and into the food chain,” he says. Here’s how he’s getting everyday consumers to embrace his produce.

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[Illustration: Mauco Sosa]

Step 1:

Barber challenged Mazourek to develop a squash that combined the rich flavor of a butternut with the smooth, dry texture of Japan’s kabocha varietal. Mazourek hand-pollinated squash until he had crossbred a promising new strain.

[Illustration: Mauco Sosa]

Step 2:

Over the summer, Sweetgreen’s culinary team began planning a dish to showcase the squash. Barber recommended a simple preparation roasted with salt and pepper to demonstrate how good the squash tastes on its own. That’s part of the company’s mission, he says: “to write a recipe at the breeding level.”

[Illustration: Mauco Sosa]

Step 3:

With Row 7’s launch earlier this year, Sweetgreen saw an opportunity to embrace “the next level of transparency” in food, says cofounder and co-CEO Nicolas Jammet. The chain bought more than 100,000 seeds (with an expected yield of 280,000 pounds), and in May, worked with its farmer network to plant them on six farms across the country, offering Row 7 the first large-scale test of how the squash performs in different climates and soils.

[Illustration: Mauco Sosa]

Step 4:

Mazourek’s team planted and harvested the squash, and began testing it for flavor, nutrition, and other factors, including resistance to pests and shelf stability. The Koginut excelled. Barber was also drawn to its shape, which could double as a serving bowl. The pair began sharing the seeds with partner farmers.

[Illustration: Mauco Sosa]

Step 5:

A test kitchen at Sweetgreen’s headquarters, in Culver City, California, will begin serving the Koginut dish to customers in October, allowing the culinary team to make any last-minute tweaks to the recipe. In November, the dish will appear on the menu at all of Sweetgreen’s 89 locations nationwide.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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