Literal Farm To Table: Here's The Dirt On Chefs Cooking With Dirt : The Salt As Chopped host Ted Allen puts it, "People are already eating snout-to-tale, leaves-to-roots. ... Chefs are getting people to eat kale and drink rotted juices. Dirt, rocks and mud just follow."
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Literal Farm To Table: Here's The Dirt On Chefs Cooking With Dirt

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Literal Farm To Table: Here's The Dirt On Chefs Cooking With Dirt

Literal Farm To Table: Here's The Dirt On Chefs Cooking With Dirt

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In the Marais district of Paris, in a kitchen that clatters with copper cutlery and cooks, Chef Solange Gregoire and her husband, Chef Gael, hover lovingly above a cast-iron pot that bubbles and simmers with an aromatic steam.

SOLANGE GREGOIRE: Why don't you take a taste, huh?

SIMON: Just right from the pot like that?

S. GREGOIRE: Of course.

SIMON: All right, let me see, OK. It tastes - is that, like, rocks and dirt?

S. GREGOIRE: Yes.

GAEL GREGOIRE: You are more sophisticated than you look.

SIMON: The Gregoires are creators of what they call veritable cuisine du terroir, not just food of the land, but food of the land, really. At their Paris restaurant, Le Plat Sal, The Dirty Plate, the Gregoires prepare specialties like Roche Dans la Croute, a rock encased in pastry crust, and Boue Ragout, a stew made of mud from the Seine River.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS CLINKING)

NOELLE BLANCHARD: Magnifique.

OLIVIER BLANCHARD: Magnifique.

SIMON: Olivier and Noelle Blanchard dine frequently at Le Plat Sal. And, conveniently, they speak English.

Now a lot of Americans are wondering, I mean, can they really eat rocks?

O.BLANCHARD: You Americans want everything to be so safe with your seat belts, your no smoking, your speed limits, your vegan cupcakes, your condoms, your money-back guarantees.

SIMON: So we asked the Gregoires - is it really safe to eat rocks and dirt?

G. GREGOIRE: (Speaking French) Only Americans ask this question. What would you rather eat, a French rock or an American Twinkie?

SIMON: And American chefs have been inspired to rediscover the roots of their own food culture.

Rick Bayless, the Chicago chef who's won the James Beard and Julia Child awards, says that dirt and rocks have an ancient history in Mexican cuisine.

RICK BAYLESS: You remember the Tzolkin, that divine Maya calendar that they said predicted the end of the world in 2012?

SIMON: Yeah, sort of. Yeah, sure.

BAYLESS: Well, it turned out that bits of the Tzolkin had been chiseled off to toss into a stew named after Zipacna, the Mayan god of the Earth's crust. And we made a version in our restaurant with chunks of Wrigley Field.

TED ALLEN: We're raised to believe that if food is dirty, it's bad.

SIMON: Ted Allen, who hosts "Chopped" on the Food Network, believes that veritable cuisine du terroir will soon be a trend on American dining tables.

ALLEN: Let me put it this way, Sal (ph). What's left? People are already eating snout to tail, leaves to roots, stem to stern, hand to mouth. I mean, chefs are getting people to eat kale and to drink rotten juices. It seems to me that dirt, rocks and mud are just the natural follow through.

SIMON: Danny Meyer, the New York restaurateur who founded the Shake Shack chain, figures the future of food may be just below our feet.

DANNY MEYER: We think that artisanal rocks, if they're locally sourced and freshly prepared, can be the next great American - I don't know - elegant and casual, customized, locavore, handmade, foodie enthusiastic cuisine. You know, it's an alternative way to eat.

And we hope to start opening the first restaurants in our new operation this fall and maybe even in my native town of St. Louis. We're going to use dirt and rocks, and we're going to locally source them from Laddonia and Cabool, Mo.

SIMON: Now, does dirt from, say, Laddonia have its own distinct flavor?

MEYER: It's a terroir, for sure. It's got its own piquancy and - I guess that's the way I'd put it. Cabool dirt is opulent but silky and - I don't know. I think people will really dig it.

SIMON: The specialties that Solange and Gael Gregoire create in their Paris kitchen are as varied as the glories of the soil of France. Chef Solange lifts the last lid on a consomme that simmers with a rich, rusty iridescence.

Oh, that steam smells divine. What do you call it exactly - what?

S. GREGOIRE: We call this consomme Ile de la Cite.

SIMON: And that's after the - what? - the island that's in the middle of Paris.

S. GREGOIRE: And let me ask you, Steven (ph), what do you see that's so lovely and special on Paris streets?

SIMON: Oh, everything is lovely about Paris. You know, the people are so stylish. The boulevards are so broad and leafy. People sit outside in cafes. They have their dogs on their lap. They sip espresso. I mean, nobody loves their dogs like Parisians.

S. GREGOIRE: Oh, they do, absolument. So in the U.S., people walk their dogs and pick up the droppings, right?

SIMON: Yes, yes. It's law, as a matter of fact.

S. GREGOIRE: And just throw them away.

SIMON: Yeah.

S. GREGOIRE: What a waste.

G. GREGOIRE: Whereas we recognize those droppings for the precious saveur that they are.

SIMON: Saveur, saveur - what is saveur?

S. GREGOIRE: Flavor.

SIMON: Flavor, flavor - flavor - wait a minute. Did I just eat a...

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FRENCH CAFE ENSEMBLE'S "FOLIE FAUBOURG")

SIMON: You can see photos of the Gregoires in their kitchen and read a recipe from Chef Solange on our WEEKEND EDITION website and The Salt on npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FRENCH CAFE ENSEMBLE'S "FOLIE FAUBOURG")

SIMON: It's April 1, 2017, and you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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