In Mario Batali's just-opened 50,000 square foot homage to Italian cuisine, Eataly, it’s not the paninoteca, the pasticceria or the Lavazza coffee shop that has been getting the most buzz. It's the vegetable butcher. Her name is Jennifer Rubell, and she is a Harvard and Culinary Institute of America graduate, large-scale food project artist and cookbook author. Jennifer is julienning, mincing and dicing vegetables during Eataly’s opening month.
We are accustomed to asking the baker to slice our ciabatta or the butcher to cut our salumi, but we have been left to our own devices when it comes to prepping our artichokes and radicchio. Leave it to Mario, who recently lost 35 pounds by incorporating more veggies into his diet and has said that "farmers are the next rock stars," to create a new level of service when it comes to produce.
Over a late-night dinner at Del Posto, Mario and Jennifer created the position and Jennifer was anointed Eataly's first (and definitely amazingly-credentialed) vegetable butcher. During the opening weekend, I left my basket of produce in the butcher's very capable hands and salad spinner, while I sampled and shopped. When I returned, the celery was diced and the romaine was chopped for my morning green juice, and the other veggies were washed and prepped for dinner. On my next trip, I'll have to shop for pomegranates, as I'd love to see Jennifer artfully and efficiently extract its seeds (I have yet to master this skill). I'm thrilled Mario and Jennifer are giving veggies the same reverence that we've reserved for our prosciutto di Parma. Hopefully, the luxury of a vegetable sous-chef will inspire New Yorkers to incorporate more vegetables into their home-cooked meals. Jennifer talks to MindBodyGreen about the genesis of the vegetable butcher, the dialogue on food waste in her art, and how she's incorporating Goldilocks and porridge into her yearly breakfast project.
MBG: What was the inspiration behind the creation of the "Vegetable Butcher" position? Rumor has it that a late-night conversation at Del Posto with Mario was involved.
JR: Yes, two months or so before Eataly opened, Mario Batali and I were having dinner at Del Posto. By about midnight, we had come up with this idea of a vegetable butcher, and somehow decided that I'd be the first one. That's how it all started.