Here's the way it usually works: Growers plant strawberries. Strawberries are delivered to consumers. Chefs taste strawberries. Chefs figure out what to do with strawberries.
Here's how things could work: Chefs taste strawberries. Chefs tell growers which strawberries they like. Growers put those strawberries into production.
"For the first time in history, chefs are being invited to tour the WSU research garden where the strawberries of the future are being developed," said Jon Rowley, the food marketing master who arranged next Monday's tour, in which a group of chefs will taste and evaluate new strawberry cultivars at Washington State University's research station in Puyallup.
"I hope to be able to show the chefs that there are many different strawberry cultivars available and they have different characteristics," said WSU researcher Patrick Moore. "I also hope to learn what they are looking for in a strawberry."
Moore does what bees can't: uses controlled pollination to produce seedlings for WSU's breeding program. Currently, there are about 4,700 stawberry seedlings planted at WSU's Goss Farms. Most are from WSU's breeding program, but plantings include selections from Oregon and British Columbia breeding programs.
If chefs like flavors of certain cultivars, Moore said, they may be propagated for further testing -- even if their fruit production does not stand out.
"Historically, it has been growers who have participated in the process to determine which cultivars go into commerical production," Rowley said. "Flavor might not be the overriding selection criteria for a grower but may be the primary consideration for chefs and consumers."
Following next Monday's strawberry field tour and tasting, Anthony's executive chef, Pat Donahue, will prepare strawberry shortcakes from WSU's strawberries. Others on the invite list include: Peter Birk of Ray's Boathouse; Eric Hellner of Union Square Gril; Chris Curtis, representing Seattle farmers markets; Danielle Custer, Seattle Art Museum; Kevin Davis, Stealhead Diner; Ed Lasker, Metropolitan Market produce specialist; Ethan Stowell, Union Restaurant; and Aaron Wright, Canlis.
Mabye some Tacoma chefs will be invited to the raspberry tasting that Rowley hopes to organize in early July.