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From Texas to Tampa…

...to farm, to table, to print

By Jim Webster

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“The next culinary rock star isn’t going to be a chef, it’s going to be a farmer.”

Farmer Rebecca Krassnoski at Nature Delivered Farm.
Farmer Rebecca Krassnoski at Nature Delivered Farm/ Photo: Lara Cerri

“Who’s going to be the next rock-star chef?”

 

The question, directed at Mario, came out at a late-night gab session after an event in Fort Worth, Texas. It was chilly outside, there were hot fires, cold beverages and a huge, clear sky with a million stars. The assembled throng was gathered at a campsite in the infield of the Texas Motor Speedway, where Mario had just competed in the Asphalt Chef event against Tim Love and Guy Fieri. The winner took bragging rights and benevolence.

 

“The next culinary rock star isn’t going to be a chef, it’s going to be a farmer.”

 

It was the speed with which Mario answered that question, so assertively, that stuck with me. For a long time.

 

I was at the party as a friend of the house, volunteering my time for Mario’s foundation, the beneficiary of the events that weekend. That meant I got to do some shopping, some chauffeuring, some mise en place, tend some grills, wash some big dishes in a tiny sink, mix some drinks. And hang out at the after party.

 

When I went home after that weekend, I went back to my job at the time, at The St. Petersburg Times in Florida, where I was considering a story about a chef and a farmer. The chef was Greg Baker from The Refinery in Tampa. He had told me about a pig farmer named Rebecca Krassnoski, one of his sources.

He talked, with some degree of reverence, about her methods and practices. I met her and bought some pork from her, and from then on, Greg and Rebecca had my full attention. I was thinking big for this story. Huge, even. I thought this dynamic was important.

 

Months later, Mario was in Tampa for an event and I got to show him around town. One place I took him was The Refinery for late-night snacks and conversation with the staff. And someone asked:

 

“Who’s going to be the next culinary rock star, chef?”

 

That the answer was the same didn’t surprise me, but I had trouble believing I had just heard the question again. Mario and I talked about it. I told him about my idea for a story about Greg and Rebecca. We talked about chefs he knew in cities around the country who were as dedicated to the cause as Greg.

 

We had the outline of a book. We’d talk to chefs around the country, have them tell us about their favorite farmers, visit the farms and tell the farmers’ stories, and write recipes inspired by their work.

 

The book came out yesterday. It’s the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people.

 

It’s my first book, so I’m pretty excited. Also, I wrote a book with Mario Batali, so I’m really excited.

And I like to think that the book answers what is apparently a pressing question. I think the next culinary rock stars are in those pages. And I hope you seek them out.

 

Jim Webster works at The Washington Post. Mario and Jim’s book, “America: Farm to Table,” was released by Grand Central Life & Style this morning!! Follow him on Twitter: @jwscoop.

AmericaFarmtoTableBook

 

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