Singing the Praises of Wild Foods

A Wild Box from Allora, available for delivery in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, might include, clockwise from top: squash blossoms grown on the farm; a bouquet of common vetch (also known as wild peas), linden flowers, dame’s rocket, and bedstraw; a hunk of a chicken-of-the-woods mushroom.Photograph by Courtney Sofiah Yates for The New Yorker

We’ve long been fans of foraged foods on this site, whether that be the seasonal delights of wild mushrooms, or the community gleaning of urban trees and gardens. These Wild Boxes are definitely an inspiration to get outside with an expert, and find a meal.

Foraged Foods Shorten the Supply Chain

Chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms that fry up like their namesake, snappy sea beans that need no extra salt, sassafras syrup, and other edible offerings from the wilds outside the city limits.

“Alot of the talk about quarantine cooking, in the beginning, was, like, ‘Here’s twenty ways to use a can of tuna,’ ” James O’Donnell recounted the other day. “It was very much survivalist.” O’Donnell and his partner, Amanda Kingsley, own Allora Farm & Flowers, in Pine Plains, New York, where they grow what they need for their floral-design studio, plus vegetables. It struck him that “a lot of people at home could probably use feeling connected to the natural world right now, a little bit of excitement and wonder.” Before the pandemic, a substantial part of O’Donnell and Kingsley’s business was supplying restaurants with ingredients that they foraged sustainably from the acres that they lease, as well as from friends’ properties and from public lands in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. With the restaurant market shrinking, they decided to experiment with a direct-to-consumer weekly-ish Wild Box, available for delivery in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

To forage safely requires a good amount of training. Perfectly edible plants can look nearly identical to perfectly poisonous ones. In some cases, a berry that grows on a tree may be as palatable as its flower is lethal. Still, eating my way through a Wild Box gave me hope for my chances of surviving should even the canned tuna run out. Learn the rules—many inherited from indigenous peoples—and unlock access to treasures hiding in plain sight in thickets, on riverbanks, and by the shore. A hefty wedge of chicken-of-the-woods mushroom pried from a tree trunk performed exactly as its name would suggest, its edges pan-frying to a crisp golden brown that rivalled a buttermilk crust, its creamy interior shredding almost like meat.

A vial of sassafras syrup, made by steeping bark and small roots removed responsibly from a sassafras tree, was transformed into an aromatically fizzy glass of root beer when mixed with soda water. The detailed ingredient key that came in the box suggested treating tender, sweet, snappy sea beans—a succulent, also known as samphire, that grows on beaches and in coastal marshes—like salad greens, but to leave the salt out of your vinaigrette until you had tasted the dressed beans. Sure enough, they were so infused with a natural brine that they didn’t need a single grain. Continue reading

Threads

The threads of handloom speak to me every time I enter my closet, despite the fact that it’s a rare occurrence for me to wear a sari now that we no longer live in India. Even without that particular garment, half of my wardrobe is comprised of beautiful pieces of extraordinary workmanship, in handloom, shibori dying, and embroidery; designed in Kerala by Sreejith Jeevan for Rouka, and crafted in collaboration with numerous weaving and dying clusters.

Anoodha Kunnath and the Curiouser team once again bring this craft to life in inspiring ways. The excerpt above is from a longer film shot for Sahapedia, an online interactive encyclopedia on the arts, cultures and histories of India (and broadly South Asia). It aims to highlight the interdisciplinary and interconnected nature of cultural expression that cut across various domains.

The threads have to be strung across an open field before 8 am at least, so that they are dried by the morning breeze and warmed just enough by the tender sunlight found only at those hours. Street warping, just like everything that is done with great love and care, is painstaking; so much so that the author Sethu compares it to caring for a child. Continue reading

Glowing & Growing

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CoffeeClean2As we prepare to plant coffee Amie and I yesterday completed washing 14,000 beans, give or take, from the most recent harvest of coffee from this land where we live. As big as that number sounds, it is just a few pounds of green beans, picked from several trees that have held on over the years.

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In previous years this would provide a month’s drinkable coffee, but this year we will germinate the beans instead. We selected the fully formed, unbroken beans like those above, separating out the small percentage of broken or misshapen beans like those to the right. After germination, by August we expect to have between 3,000 and 4,000 viable seedlings we will keep in a nursery. One year from now those will be saplings ready to plant in the ground.  We are approaching this task traditionally, by hand, sight of eye, and a few simple analog tools.

CoffeeClean4This morning we will dig holes for the first of the shade trees going onto that land where the coffee will be planted. But first, the news. The best I could find, for motivation, involves a man temporarily in New York City, working in a museum. His work, and the exhibition he is tending to, provides me context for the countryside as it still is for many coffee farmers here, and the technology transforming the countryside for future generations. Already plenty of coffee farmers are using technology as advanced as that of the tomato man in the story below. Without romanticizing the hard labor of traditional coffee farming, the work we are doing makes me more appreciative of the coffee farmers we source from. Thanks to Elizabeth A. Harris for this story:

The Museum Is Closed, but Its Tomato Man Soldiers On

Although the Guggenheim’s “Countryside” show was shuttered by the pandemic, its crop of cherry tomatoes is still growing, and feeding New Yorkers.

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Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

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Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The halls of the Guggenheim Museum are pretty quiet these days, with mostly just its ghosts and some security guards as company for the art.

Oh, and there’s the guy who takes care of the tomatoes.

David Litvin, an indoor crop specialist, tends the plants in a temporarily shuttered exhibition, “Countryside, The Future.” He moved to New York from Tel Aviv in February, along with his wife, Stefanie, and their Dutch shepherd, Ester, with a plan to stay six months harvesting the Guggenheim tomatoes. He was going to see the city, too.

“I went out once to a comedy bar, but that’s it,” he said.

The museum has been closed since March 13, but Mr. Litvin still walks across Central Park every day around noon from his rental on the Upper West Side to tend to his flock. “When you grow tomatoes on Fifth Avenue, you want to have the perfect tomatoes, there’s no room to mess up,” he said. “If I have ugly plants, I’ll hear it from the neighbors.” Continue reading

If You Drink Organic Coffee, Consider 100% Forward

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The 12 selections of Organikos specialty coffees had enough time on display at the Authentica shops, prior to current circumstances in Costa Rica and everywhere else, to establish the organic selection as a top seller.

AmistadNewDuring those months–the shops fully opened in late November and until early March were nonstop full of guests–I had hundreds of conversations with travelers.

I got excellent feedback on our original coffee packaging. Briefly stated, the recurring message was that people wanted to “see more Costa Rica” on the package. They also wanted to know more about what our 100% Forward commitment meant. We have used the time since travel halted to work with our graphic designer to begin addressing that feedback.

We also have used this time to prepare a virtual approach to the business, focused on coffee at the outset. We will start with the organic, due to its performance during the shops’ peak operations. We will offer this for home delivery in the USA soon…

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

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The Saône river in Lyon (Herbert Frank from Wien (Vienna), AT – Lyon, an der Saône, Eglise Saint Georges / Wikimedia Commons)

When you have 20 minutes it is worth hearing Bill Buford speak about the same experience he has written about. If you have already read about his Lyon baking experience, and enjoyed it, all the more so; this conversation brings more to the table as he discusses his new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. Click the image of the book below to go to an independent bookseller that offers it.

9780307271013Likewise, even if you have already read plenty on the importance of bread and bakeries in French culture you might enjoy one more take, from the present circumstances, in James McAuley’s article about flocking back to bakeries for comfort: …“The power of bread is particularly emotional now. It’s no longer caloric; a vital necessity,” Kaplan said. “Bread still is the conveyor of this extraordinary, important feeling we have that the state cares about us. It’s a reaffirmation of solidarity. Solidarity is really represented by sharing bread.” (Baguettes were price-controlled in France until 1986)…

Support Chefs Who Support Immigrant Workers

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Los Angeles’s participating chefs Photo: Courtesy of Ask Chefs Anything

Devorah Lev-Tov, a writer who covers food, among other things, surprisingly has not shown up in our pages before. I am happy to link to this particular story as a first. Food and agriculture have been central to this platform since we started it in 2011. Also, immigrants-r-us, so I appreciate the effort on their behalf as much as I appreciate the visibility it is receiving in a location surprising to me. Vogue is an unlikely publication for me to source from, but credit where due, a great story:

Ask Chefs Anything: Famous Foodies Are Auctioning Their Time in Support of Immigrant Workers

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the country and force businesses to shut down, among the hardest hit are immigrant workers—many of whom worked in the restaurant or other service industries. Now, they are left with no jobs and no unemployment benefits, struggling to put food on their plates and send money home to their families, while fearing getting sick without any support from the government.

In an effort to help them, dozens of famous chefs—including Alison Roman, Nancy Silverton, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, Suzanne Goin, and Dominique Ansel—are auctioning off 30-minute virtual discussions where they will share recipes and cooking tips via a new initiative called Ask Chefs AnythingNew York City’s ended last week, Los Angeles’s auction is going on now through May 11, and Philadelphia’s takes place May 13 to 17, with more cities to follow. Continue reading

Searching For Bread

000064298Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about bread, which reminded me of Cherchez le pain. This guide to the best bakeries in Paris was published when we lived there, and its author had been my professor at Cornell. As soon as I saw the publicity for the book I sent him an email congratulating him. To my surprise, he was on sabbatical leave, living just a few blocks from where we were living, so I invited him to join us for dinner.

I had sat through enough of his lectures on the history of food to anticipate an interesting dinner, but I was not prepared for what might sound now like a parlor trick. As soon as we sat for the meal, he picked up the bread in front of him, our favorite from a bakery we had chosen from dozens during our first few months living in that city. He held it to his nose, then brought it to his ear and tapped it with a spoon. He broke it in two and pressed his face into it. Maybe there was more to the show that I have forgotten now. What I do remember is that he named the bakery it was from.

I was impressed. And I was gratified after that when he said we had chosen well. But then he mentioned that if we were willing to walk just two blocks further we would find a bakery that ranked in the top five out of six hundred bakeries he had sampled in Paris. Next morning, of course, we went to that bakery and bought what might be the best bread of our lives. As we walked home with our bread, our entire family halted as we approached the bakery that had been our regular bakery for the past several months. We decided to walk an entire city block out of our way so that the baker would not see us having bought our bread elsewhere.

This Headline Catches My Attention

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Organic cabernet sauvignon grown near the town of Cowaramup in the Margaret River region of Australia. Frances Andrijich for The New York Times

During 2003 and 2004, life in Paris was full of wonders for our family. Bread was really art, we learned. And tarte tatin, which Amie had modified for years using mangos in Costa Rica, is best of all modified by using various French heritage plums available in a nearby marché in late August. And cheese! Plus plenty more, but for now I am reminded of the occasional wine expositions–cavernous spaces filled with hundreds of kiosks of artisanal wine makers–we would attend. At one of those I first tasted natural wine. So today, this headline shouts down all the others. Just the fact that Eric Asimov is still on this particular beat is enough to make me think things are okay, or will be okay, or at least could someday be okay:

France Defines Natural Wine, but Is That Enough?

The wine industry and many consumers have long sought a definition, but the adoption of a voluntary charter may not clarify anything.

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Marie Carroget

Natural wine is healthy and pure; natural wine is wretched and horrible. It’s the future of wine; it’s the death of wine.

For 15 years, natural wine has been a contentious time bomb that has divided many in the wine community, creating conflicts fought with the sort of anger that stems only from extreme defensiveness.

Since 2003, when I first encountered what has come to be called natural wine at the seminal restaurant 360 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I have been a fan, though a cleareyed one, I hope.

I believe in the promise and beauty of natural wines, while acknowledging that many examples are not good, as is true with all genres of wine. The truth is that natural wines have made all of wine better. Continue reading

Librarians Of Bread

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Karl De Smedt in the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor, the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, in St. Vith, Belgium. Puratos Center for Bread Flavor

Bread is a frequent flier of a topic on this platform, including sourdough specifically. Ditto for libraries and their librarians and the creative things they do. Franz Lidz is not a writer we have featured in our pages before, but with a story like this one we will be watching for more.

At the Sourdough Library, With Some Very Old Mothers

Some starters never die, they just get filed away here.

In these housebound times, Americans have gone stark baking mad. Shut-ins are channeling their anxieties into pandemic pastries and quarantine cookies, some with icing piped in the shape of surgical masks, others frosted with the face of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Baking essentials such as yeast and flour are in short supply, and Google searches for bread recipes are on the rise, so to speak.

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Puratos Center for Bread Flavour

Curiously, during this apocalyptic spring, the best thing since sliced bread turns out not to be sliced bread. The most coveted isolation loaves seem to be sourdough, a knobbly, rugged variety that requires patience, handmade fermentations and something like affection. “Working with sourdough is part art, part science,” said Karl De Smedt. “You don’t tell the dough when it’s time to be shaped. The dough tells you.”

Mr. De Smedt is the curator of the world’s only sourdough library. Located in the flyspeck village of St. Vith, 87 miles southeast of Brussels, the library houses the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, those bubbling beige globs of bacteria and wild yeast — known as “mothers” — that bakers mix into dough to produce flavorful loaves with interestingly shaped holes. If a mother isn’t regularly divided and kneaded and fed with flour and water, she will eventually go dormant or die. “A starter has its own heart, almost its own will,” Mr. De Smedt said. “Treat a starter nice and it will reward you tremendously, like a good friend.” Continue reading

Lyon, Bread & Costa Rica

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The bread from Bob’s boulangerie united a neighborhood of food fanatics. Illustration by Leo Espinosa

My first mention of Bill Buford was so brief, you might have missed it–just a link to an event he was moderating. The second was a link to his writing. And then another link to his writing. I am glad to see that he is still harvesting from his experience living in Lyon. It is a city that I have been to twice, with exceptional food memories which I will save for another time. For now I will just mention that one baker in Costa Rica has recently mastered the art of world-class bread-making, including baguette and chiabbata. During these challenging times for this country’s family farms it occurs to me, thanks to Bill Buford’s story, that ensuring the survival of this bakery is worthy of attention as well:

Baking Bread in Lyon

For a newcomer to the city, a boulangerie apprenticeship reveals a way of life.

In Lyon, an ancient but benevolent law compels bakers to take one day off a week, and so most don’t work Sundays. An exception was the one in the quartier where I lived with my family for five years, until 2013. On Sundays, the baker, Bob, worked without sleep. Late-night carousers started appearing at three in the morning to ask for a hot baguette, swaying on tiptoe at a high ventilation window by the oven room, a hand outstretched with a euro coin. By nine, a line extended down the street, and the shop, when you finally got inside, was loud from people and from music being played at high volume. Everyone shouted to be heard—the cacophonous hustle, oven doors banging, people waving and trying to get noticed, too-hot-to-touch baguettes arriving in baskets, money changing hands. Everyone left with an armful and with the same look, suspended between appetite and the prospect of an appetite satisfied. It was a lesson in the appeal of good bread—handmade, aromatically yeasty, with a just-out-of-the-oven texture of crunchy air. This was their breakfast. It completed the week. This was Sunday in Lyon. Continue reading

Another Wonder From Rwanda

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StatsTo the left you can see yesterday’s viewership of our posts, by country. Viewership has recently been low, for obvious reasons. It has made me wonder whether we should take a hiatus. My counter-thought is, if on a day like yesterday, just one person visited this site and found something of value, we should continue. As of today there have been 696,713 views of all of our posts since we started in mid-2011. Yesterday someone viewed a post I distinctly remember writing some months ago, which brought a smile to my face. And just now I was downloading a file using WeTransfer, and this story presented itself, and it seems a perfect companion piece:

Savane Rutongo-Kabuye Embroideries of the Women of Rwanda

tiger_giclee_-_CopyFor 22 years, 15 Rwandan women have been turning their surroundings and their memories into beautiful textile art. Founded in 1997 by Christiane Rwagatare a short time after the genocide of 1994, the Savane Rutongo-Kabuye workshop offered a distraction, a source of income and a creative avenue to those who had been affected. The workshop has gone from strength to strength, and thanks to educator-turned-curator Juliana Meehan, the embroideries of the women of Rwanda have now been exhibited and seen across the US. Alex Kahl spoke to Christiane and Juliana to explore their uplifting story.

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Due to her home country Rwanda’s turbulent history, Christiane Rwagatare lived much of her early life in exile. When she returned in 1994 in the aftermath of the genocide, the country had been devastated. “It was a very difficult time,” she says. In 1997, when she was visiting a relative in the small village of Rutongo, she saw women selling hand embroidered linens on the roadside, and felt an immediate sense of hope and possibility. At this moment, she recalled all that she had learned about art while in Europe, and knew she could contribute something positive. She announced that she would be starting an embroidery workshop, and asked that anyone interested come to the village church the next day. She was shocked when more than 100 women arrived with samples of their work.

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“I must admit that I panicked,” Christiane says. Continue reading

Darn Charm

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Thanks to Steven Kurutz, whose first two appearances in our pages (6 and 4 years ago, respectively) prepared us well for this charming news:

Now Is When We All Learn to Darn Our Socks Again

“Visible mending” has been taken up by those who want to protest fast fashion and disposable culture. It’s also thrifty.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Only a few generations ago, socks were routinely darned, sweaters mended and pants patched. You could buy a sewing kit at any drugstore. Knowing how to use it was a mark of good housekeeping.

Kate Sekules, 58, remembers that world, in which the act of repairing clothes was integral to wearing them. “My mother was a dressmaker to the end of her life,” said Ms. Sekules, who grew up in England. “My mother just mended as a matter of course.”

Ms. Sekules has kept up that thrifty tradition. She started one of the earliest secondhand online clothing exchanges, Refashioner. She buys all of her clothes vintage and mends them all, including her husband’s moth-eaten sweaters. Continue reading

Let Rem Koolhaas Take Your Mind Off Other Things

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Rem Koolhaas’s new show tells a story that stretches from ancient Rome and China to the environmental, existential crisis of the present. Photograph by Laurian Ghinitoiu / Courtesy AMO

Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for the welcome distraction:

Rem Koolhaas’s Journey to the Countryside

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One morning last week, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas was slowly turning in place in the center of the Guggenheim Museum’s rotunda, his face tilted up toward the sun-flooded glass roof. Suspended above his bald head was a miniature yellow submarine with a long needle at one end, like a bayonet. The device, Koolhaas explained, was something Australians developed to exterminate starfish. “Because of global warming, they are proliferating to the extent that they need to be killed, to protect the great barrier reef,” Koolhaas said. “The sub injects them with poison.” He smiled slyly. “Organic poison.” Continue reading

Getting a Bigger Bang Out of Plastic

Plastic has been on our radar for years, both as an environmental scourge and a raw material for the rising recycle and “upcycle” economy.  Finding these creative uses for an ubiquitous waste material around the world has been inspiring, to say the least.

We hadn’t been familiar with the Precious Plastic model until we met the wonderful women from the Wagát Upcycling Lab. We applaud the community ethos of open source plans to address a global crisis.

Big Bang, Indeed!

Chocolate Made Clearer

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Erin Lubin for The New York Times

I had planned to follow up on yesterday’s post today, but there is a better option. Even after years of learning, fun as well as more serious facts than I knew previously about chocolate, so that we would source excellent quality, and ethical, chocolate, there is always more to learn. Thanks to Melissa Clark, as always, for the enlightenment:

Everything You Need to Know About Chocolate

The beloved bar has come a long way in quality and complexity. Here’s a primer on how it’s made, and how to choose the best and most ethically produced.

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Erin Lubin for The New York Times

You probably think you already know everything you need to know about chocolate.

For instance: The higher the percentage of cacao, the more bitter the chocolate, right? The term “single origin” on the label indicates that the chocolate expresses a particular terroir. And wasn’t the whole bean-to-bar movement started by a couple of bearded guys in Brooklyn?

Wrong; not necessarily; and definitely not. Continue reading

Maya Nut @ Authentica

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Authentica was conceived as a shop that would constantly be renewed by the creative forces surrounding us in Costa Rica. Artisans who shape wood in a way that we consider to be quintessentially Costa Rica, or sourced  in a way we consider to be more virtuous. Ceramic pieces that evoke Costa Rica. Foods and beverages that offer a taste of place like nothing else. Today we have a new set of products to talk about, starting with the one in the photo above. Known here as ojoche, but in other places as ramon, or especially as Maya nut; known in Latin by its botanical name as brosimum alicastrum. There is a story to tell, too long for one post but it started for me in Belize. A new plot line…

Tumbled Wooden Pieces

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It started as an experiment a few weeks ago. Small wooden odds and ends, leftover pieces from one of our toy producers, placed in the tumbler, produced what we saw as handfuls of nature. We placed them in the tub above.

Would people buy these instead of the magnetic stones offered in other gift shops? We have our answer.

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Is the tub half empty, or half full? Perspective is everything.

Field of Greens

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Assembly required: Sweetgreen’s hexagonal, compostable bowls have become status markers. Rozette Rago for The New York Times

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Illustration by Gluekit; Photographs by Philip Cheung for The New York Time

It is not the first time we are linking out to a story on this company, but thanks to the New York Times for In a Burger World, Can Sweetgreen Scale Up?for a more in depth look at them.

And for that matter, for a theme we care deeply about, which is that we should all be putting more thought into the food we eat, and how it is packaged.

The market is rewarding those companies paying attention to these themes:

Squashing the competition: A worker preparing zucchini.  Rozette Rago for The New York Times

The chain that made salads chic, modular and ecologically conscious now wants to sell you a lot of other stuff.

On a Wednesday morning last fall, several executives at Sweetgreen, the fast-casual salad chain, gathered around a conference table at their headquarters here. They were discussing a new store format, called Sweetgreen 3.0, that had recently been introduced in New York City after two years of planning. At Sweetgreen’s other 102 locations, customers brave queues that, at peak lunch, can make T.S.A. lines look tame. Up front, employees assemble Harvest Bowls, Kale Caesars and infinite customized variants from a spread of freshly prepared ingredients, in a ritual that has become a hallmark of the modern midday meal.

At 3.0, to increase efficiency, the action had been moved offstage, to a kitchen in the rear. Customers give orders to a tablet-wielding “ambassador,” if they haven’t done so ahead of time with their smartphones, retrieving their salads from alphabetized shelves. While they wait they can mull adding one of the Sweetgreen baseball caps or $37 bottles of olive oil on display to the tab.

Many of the changes being tested at 3.0 seem crucial to realizing the ambitious plans of Sweetgreen’s co-founder and chief executive, Jonathan Neman. With its prescient mobile technology strategy, the company hopes to become something bigger — much, much bigger — than a boutique urban chain serving arugula to health nuts and yoga moms. Continue reading