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Soil Sample: Haute Chefs Join Housewives to Put a Spin on Eating Dirt

  • Written by  Tamara Palmer
  • Video
Is dirt making its way into fancy cuisine? Is dirt making its way into fancy cuisine?


At Manresa in Northern California, the internationally acclaimed chef David Kinch assembles a dish called “Into the Vegetable Garden.” There are approximately 40 items on the plate that change daily depending on what he’s received from neighboring Love Apple Farm, a 20-acre biodynamic garden that grows produce exclusively for the restaurant. In a gorgeous tangle of vegetables, seed pods, flowers and leaves, only one ingredient remains constant every day: an “edible dirt” made of roasted chicory root, potato, flour and water. It looks remarkably like the real thing.

“I believe that we were the first in the States to do it,” Kinch says proudly.

Does the chef make edible dirt to symbolize the relationship with Love Apple Farm, or to play with people’s perceptions of what they’re putting in their mouths?

“A little of both,” he smiles.

Most in the haute culinary world credit French chef Michel Bras for creating the concept of edible dirt in the late ’70s, and Rene Redzepi from Noma in Copenhagen, Denmark, for famously revisiting the idea (and sparking international interest) over the past few years. The New York Times as well as influential trend forecasters like Andrew Freeman have noticed edible dirt as a current movement.

“In search of simplicity and pure flavors,” Freeman wrote in his most recent report, “chefs are abandoning sauce. Instead, [they are using] powders, crumbles, dusts, and dirt crafted from cookie crumbs, dried mushroom powder, dehydrated beets, and anything else that can be dried, ground or crumbled to add intriguing texture.”

Notes Freeman in an interview, “I really started to take notice of it appearing playfully on menus around this time last year. I think it has a lot to do with the local farm movement. Chefs are really having fun with it.”

Freeman cites San Francisco–based chef Dominique Crenn, a former competitor on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, as someone who is exemplifying the trend at her new restaurant, Atelier Crenn. “A lot of food there is inspired by things like edible dirt, things that are actually created to feel like garden elements,” Freeman says.

It’s now surprising yet increasingly more common to see the idea of edible dirt on a menu in fine restaurants in North America, whether in a savory application such as Kinch’s, or something more aromatic, as Top Chef alum Michael Voltaggio does with coffee and cardamom to represent the earth. However, using sweet ingredients to represent dirt may have been invented by housewives across the United States, and possibly around the same time as Bras did in France. “Oreo Dirt Pudding” is a popular novelty dessert, typically comprised of chocolate and vanilla pudding, cream cheese, and Oreo cookies, with gummy worms on top for convincing decoration. So, even though the high-end trend may never trickle down to having edible soil for sale at grocery stores, you may have already eaten more dirt than you realize.

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Another edible dirt option.
Last modified on Thursday, 01 November 2012 17:48

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