Anyone with a genuine passion for food keeps a list of dream restaurants. If you love food, New York’s Momofuku Ko, Berkeley’s Chez Panisse and Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm are all gastronomic temples to which you’ve probably longed to pilgrimage.
And if you’ve never heard of these restaurants, you will soon. That’s because these are three of the latest food institutions branding themselves outside of their kitchens. With products like cookbooks, baking mixes and jams, you can now indulge in parts of your fantasy meals at a significant fraction of the price.
Blackberry Farm is a rustic retreat in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains where resort guests can spend their days fly-fishing or shooting game. Inside the celebrated restaurant, guests refuel on dishes made with ingredients straight from the property itself.
The Blackberry Farm Cookbook was released in 2009; now, it’s a cause célèbre in the food world. The restaurant’s success is a result of the fact that, in a gourmet landscape littered with faux-farm affectations, Blackberry Farm is the real deal. With that in mind, the Blackberry Farm product line was released in 2011.
Some of the restaurant’s products, such as pesto and peanut butter, are nothing you can’t get elsewhere at local markets and farm stands. Other products, however, are uniquely the brand’s own: A jar of pickled beets and strawberries is unusual and pairs well atop wild rice or a thick slice of toast.
The company’s smoked onion jam is also killer. Because eating it plain can cause a stomachache — trust me on that — try a spoonful as relish atop a bleu cheese burger. Then close your eyes and imagine eating that burger in the misty green fields of southeastern Tennessee.
Those that long to retreat to Blackberry Farm for some food-filled memories can momentarily tide over that desire with these two products.
Another sustainability-minded restaurant, Chez Panisse, is also in a unique branding position.
The Berkeley institution is widely credited with spearheading the local food movement. But a restaurant committed to its own gardens and farmers, and to its humble, neighborhood aesthetic, can’t create an honest brand selling commercialized food goods.
At least that’s how Alice Waters, the restaurant’s outspoken founder, must see it; you won’t find Chez Panisse-brand seafood rubs or jarred ramps on market shelves.
Still, in its 40 highly publicized years, Chez Panisse has released cookbooks, including one last August. More notably, Waters tends to invite admirers not into the food of Chez Panisse, but into its sensibility. Through her Edible Schoolyard Project, Waters has aimed to add sustainable, food-minded practices into elementary school curriculum.
Though ESP has 16-year-old roots in Berkeley, the organization is gaining the most traction now. In recent years, major cities such as New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles, have added affiliate schoolyards. And celebrity followers like Jake Gyllenhaal are helping to popularize the initiative: The actor was profiled alongside Waters in the February “tastemakers” issue of Bon Appétit.
As an exemplar of sustainable eating, Waters has created an admirable brand for herself.
But for those who make allowances in their idealistic pursuit of sustainable food — and I hold to it that these allowances are necessary — there are the baked pleasures of Momofuku Milk Bar.
Milk Bar is a sweets-focused extension of Chef David Chang’s Pan-Asian Momofuku empire. The bakery’s cookbook, Milk, was released last October, and it’s one, not so incidentally, that Waters recently panned: Milk Bar’s cookies and pies call for Ovaltine, Skippy peanut butter and Fruity Pebbles.
It’s also no coincidence that the cookbook’s release concurred with the release of Milk-branded baking mixes.
Now some of New York’s most sought-after treats can be enjoyed in any home kitchen. They are also, like all truly great new products, unlike anything else on the market: The “compost cookie mix” is a combination of butterscotch, oats, coffee, potato chips, pretzels and chocolate, for instance.
The food products from Milk Bar and Blackberry Farm are available exclusively through Williams-Sonoma and the brands’ websites.
On a smaller, but equally exciting scale, you can see the makings of brands in some L.A. restaurants.
Bottega Louie, of course, has its pastel-colored pastry boxes, a presentation not so different from a Tiffany’s box and a touch that’s all the more exciting for macaron lovers.
And Bäco Mercat, the latest addition to Spring Street’s growing number of veritably funky joints, bottles its own soda. Bäco Pop is a citrusy, gingery drink available for purchase at the hostess stand.
Though the concept of branding is nothing new, it’s always intriguing to watch a restaurant or chef test limits. Branded products can help you curb the nuisance of logistics — time, money, travel — and allow you to get a taste of a chef’s distinguished style in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Yet, some are still staunchly opposed to commercialization in the restaurant world.
To those people, you must try a compost cookie. All should be forgiven with that first bite.
Bernard Leed is a junior majoring in narrative studies. His column “Amuse-Bouche” runs Wednesdays.