A new breed of butcher touts "vegetable stimulus"
September 29th, 2010
04:00 PM ET
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Jessica Yellin is a CNN national political correspondent based in Washington, D.C.

Jennifer Rubell might be the world’s first vegetable butcher.

She slices and dices vegetables, shares cooking tips and generally promotes vegetable consumption at Eataly, celebrity Chef Mario Batali's new Italian food emporium in New York City. Catch her during the noon bustle and you’ll hear her extol the virtues of celery root, watermelon radish, or baby beets and as she chops to customers specifications advising them, "Toss with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Fantastic!"

"In the vegetable butcher area, we try not to give people recipes; we try to give people an approach to cooking," says Rubell.

Rubell is all about finding new approach to food. A Harvard graduate who studied art history and went on to train at the Culinary Institute of America, she is now a performance artist. "Food, for whatever reason, is the medium I think in,” she explains.

She’s determined to make us all to re-examine our relationship to food and asks, “How can we look at food in a more aware, awake way? How can we think about food in a way that is more mindful? How can we get our children into food?”

She hatched the vegetable butcher idea over wine late one night with celebrity chef Mario Batali, who was just opening the new gourmet mega-market Eataly. They wanted to encourage people to make more fresh vegetables and move beyond the familiar. Rubell advises, "Don’t always buy the zucchinis."

They realized doing the chopping for the customers is one way to give veggies a nudge. “The idea is to remove any obstacle from people cooking at home. We’ll trim your beans..we’ll clean your mushrooms,” says Batali.

“The whole stand is more or less to give you the information to disarm the vegetable to make it easier to cook. Like anything can be sautéed or even for that matter eaten raw. You can take almost any of the vegetables in this whole area and shave them thin enough and dress them with a little extra virgin olive oil and they’re so good.”

Rubell is his vegetable missionary. She is no vegetarian – “I eat meat, I eat everything” she exclaims but believes, “Vegetables are by far the most interesting thing in the food world.” When asked why so many Americans hate them she gets excited. “I’d hate vegetables too if I ate frozen vegetables! I’d hate vegetables if I ate vegetables that are out of season! I think to fall in love with vegetables you need to eat seasonal vegetables and you need to eat them prepared very simply and they need to be homemade.”

True confession: Jennifer and I went to college together and she’s been working on my cooking skills ever since. On the day we visited she showed me how to peel a baby artichoke - cut off the tip and the end of the stem, peel back all the dark exterior leaves till you’re left with a soft green interior, and then with a paring knife carefully trim away the hard skin on the stem. Then she laughed, “I would say for the vegetable butcher, artichokes are the crowning glory because they are really intimidating to people.”

She also showed me how to slice celery root - chop into big pieces then slice those thin with a gizmo called a mandoline or with a kitchen knife. She helped me make a celery root salad - toss the raw slices with lemon, salt and olive oil - and customers swarmed the counter to eat free samples.

She suggests that salad could be part of a quick evening meal. “Make this little salad, then you could even buy a rotisserie chicken bake a couple of potatoes – in the microwave if you want – and you have a whole meal that takes five minutes instead of getting something take out.”

The advantage of cooking yourself, she says, is, “You know how much salt you are putting in you know how much oil you are putting in” and “you know that your kids are getting the best food inside their bodies.”

Rubell feels like she’s hit on something with this vegetable butcher idea. “As an artist you have to take a look at the big issues of the day and the biggest issue today is jobs and people not having jobs.”

“I have a fantasy that people will go into their supermarkets all over America and say let me be a vegetable butcher for a week and see if you sell more vegetables. See if your customers are happier and then it could be a new profession in America.”

Call it vegetable stimulus.

Whether or not the butcher idea catches on, she’s convinced the vegetable’s moment has arrived. “When Michelle Obama planted a vegetable garden at the White House that was the official beginning of the vegetable moment. We need to get fresh food and a kind of consciousness about food into the way we live today.”

Some tips from Rubell

Which vegetables should you buy?

“Use whatever vegetables are cheapest and in season so whenever there is an abundance of something at the market buy that. The more inexpensive it is the higher the likelihood it is seasonal which is absolutely the key to good flavor.”

“Use the market to drive what you buy instead of using a recipe to drive what you buy. It will save you money and you will get fresher tastier ingredients.” "And for goodness sake,don’t go for zucchinis every time.”

How do you cut a vegetable?

"You can just take a knife and slice it very thinly, as thinly as possible. If you have a food processor you know the blade that does the slicing, just take the plunger and it will make all the slices for you. It’s not any type of fancy restaurant technique.”

“Look on the internet and you can expand what you do. There’s so much information out there it’s just about taking the risk of buying something you never bought.”

How do you interest your kids in eating vegetables?

“I find when my daughter helps pick out vegetables she’ll eat them. Because if she shops for them she feels involved.” She also says, “she has an affinity for baby vegetables, since she’s little and the baby vegetables are little. So I buy lots of baby beets and baby artichokes.” A

“Anything you can do to get your kids involved in the kitchen helps, because then they feel like the cooking is theirs, they take ownership of it. My daughter is the parmesan grater.”

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Filed under: Celebrity Chefs • Cooking • Dishes • Eatocracy Week • Make • Mario Batali • News • Supermarkets • Techniques & Tips • Vegetables

soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. Rosie

    mmmm, veggies. i'm not sure i'd want someone else cutting my food. kind of takes the fun out of cooking, no? this site is pretty good for vegetable recipes. they seem to like peppers/tomatoes....


    October 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  2. Deb

    I absolutely love the idea of a Vegetable Butcher! I see the acorn squash, pumpkins, and a variety of grown green things and they are appealing...but how do I cook with them? As a working mother feeding four sons, I would love to have someone there by the leeks doing a show and tell on leek soup that I can make for my boys AND cutting up the veggies, too? I love it!

    October 5, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  3. Craig Wilson

    This is the dumbest idea i have ever heard. Cutting vegetable does not make you a butcher. A butcher does all the hard work that brings meat to your plate. All the things that people do not like to talk about or see. I understand what she is trying to do but she is not a butcher. This is disrespectful for her to even say that she is think of all the hard working men and women who have done the arduous task to have so body say they are a butcher because they cut up some vegetable and put them on a tray.

    October 4, 2010 at 12:15 am |
  4. Tofru fru

    The notion of a vegetable butcher is the epitome of laziness. Who wants to hear a Forest Gump list of every way possible to serve egg plant? I'll clean and dry my own lettuce, thank you.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  5. Swamprattler

    did someone say chilli without meat? omg sacriligous

    October 2, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  6. Swamprattler

    veggies are great side dishes with beef, pork, chicken and fish, but you must use one of those to justify eating veggies

    October 2, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  7. JB

    Yes, long life is in vogue because thanks to the traitor in the White House, we all have to work until we're 90 to pay off our Chinese Bankers. This "great American life" is the new poverty/slavery, and it doesn't matter what you eat. We're all doomed.

    October 1, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
    • RF

      JB- You have a short memory....the debt that we have is from George Bush, not Obama. Obama is trying to clean up the mess GW left this country with. The money that Obama is spending is to stimulate job growth and get this economy going again. We need to work together to get this country working again, and stop working against each other. Working against each other is ridiculous. Giving tax cuts to anyone is ridiculous. Getting back to the REAL TOPIC.... we all need to eat healthier, veggies is the way to go. Politics will make anyones stomach upset.

      October 3, 2010 at 12:40 am |
  8. LeoD

    Vegetables, healthy eating, and long life are in vogue again. Not a moment too late for us all. Congrats to the First Lady Michelle Obama for her awesome work on our behalf. Eat healthy and enjoy this great American life.

    October 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  9. Kat

    I think we should do away with meat subsidies and instead put them towards fruits and vegetables. Then bad-for-you fast food prices would increase, people would eat there less, fewer people would be overweight, and health care costs would go down. Putting the subsidies towards crops would drop their prices making them more available to the masses. Eating less meat would also mean our ingested levels of beef/chicken/milk hormones would drop and valuable land and water resources could be better spent.

    September 30, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
    • Harry(NJ)

      Corn is more heavily subsidized than meat is and is way more harmful. HCFS is in everything out there. Really you should try to get the grain sudsidies down. Bleached White breads and Pastas are worse for you than meat is. They cause extreemly high GI reactions.

      October 1, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • Mike

      Could your government also spoon the food into my mouth and then wash my dirty bottom after I make a doodoo please?

      October 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      When are we going to personally take responsibility for ourselves instead of depending on a nanny state to regulate our aspect of our lives? The saying of everything in moderation comes to mind as well as taking responsibility for keeping our bodies fit. With my families farm, I'm definitely pro agriculture and eat meat, vegetable, fruits etc...get the point? I also take time to excercise daily. monitor any health risks and at age 50 am probably more physically fit than most 20 year olds including the vegans and organic people of the world. People....take rersponsibility for your own health!!

      October 2, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  10. Reader4Life

    I sure wish American citizens and the American government would promote more vegetable farms. It seems that we grow nothing but wheat, corn, and soybeans on giant factory farms. I am always shocked when I buy fresh produce and see labels from many different countries around the world. Most of these are crops we could easily grow domestically. Why are we paying to have them shipped from thousands of miles away? How about using those crop subsidies to encourage healthier foods and fewer medical problems for our obese population?

    September 29, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
    • AmishAirline

      Pick up a copy of "The Omnivore's Dilemma", it will provide those answers as well as shock the begeezus out of you to learn what we have done to our food chain.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
    • Ann Brush

      Try storing broccoli for a year in a grain silo and you will quickly find out why we are not all farming vegetables. It's this sort of naivety that astounds me.

      September 30, 2010 at 8:44 pm |
    • crazyvermont

      You only need look around at the starving world who are basically growing organic foods on small plots becuase they have no access to "chemicals" to see why American Farms as it does. I have no problem with people who want to be vegetarians/vegans but we would face world food shortages and exhorbedant prices if moving in the direction you voice.

      October 1, 2010 at 9:19 am |
      • howndawg

        @Ann Brush. Uh, why would you store broccoli for a year? That kind of thinking astounds me. You grow locally and eat what is in season.
        @crazyvermont. Well, at least your screen name is accurate. But not much on agricultural knowledge. Modern agribusinesses focus on producing cheap food, not good food, and they do it by using a lot of pesticides and insecticides. Do you really think those are good for the environment, or for you personally? Not much on economic theory either, huh? If organic vegetables were produced on the same scale as non-organic, they would be at least as cheap as the non-organic, beacuse the farmer would not have to spend money for all those expensive chemicals. And we would all be healthier – the farmers and the consumers.

        October 1, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
      • crazyvermont

        I'm not sure whether to laugh or have pity on you, but you certainly are ignorant of both agricultural and economics. First, mMy family have been in large scale agricultural farming for over 50 years and it is far more expensive to use fertilizers and chemicals than to plant organic; however, yields far exceed organic farming. Secondly, there currently no way to organically produce crops on the scale we do. We have neighbors who struggle to keep weeds and disease from taking over on 25 acres of organically grown fruits and vegetables. Do you want to explain how they'd farm 11,000 acres? Most folks don't understand we couldn't even feed a city farming in a way you suggest. Perhaps you better do a little research before spouting off on something you show you know nothing about.

        October 2, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  11. squiddlydoo

    Eataly is probably not the place to be actively promoting vegetables, teaching folks how to select them and then prepare them for cooking or storage, or giving pointers on how to cook them if Ms. Rubell is interested in genuinely evangelizing veggies and changing peoples' lives for the better. Markets–or what passes for markets–in lower-income areas should be her performance venue.

    September 29, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
    • Ituri

      Why should you question her "performance venue" so long as she's introducing healthy food to people? Healthy food doesn't have to exist only in scummy side-street markets.

      Btw, I'm a total omnivore, I love my total range of foods, but healthy eating is not something Americans do well, what with a McyDee's on every street corner.

      September 30, 2010 at 11:36 pm |
      • squiddlydoo

        I question her venue because she's working in an upscale market where shoppers are already more likely inclined to be able to sample and purchase premium goods and be willing to do so. She's not a neighborhood with a McDonald's on every corner and a pitiful excuse for a produce department in the corner store. The more downmarket areas are where people might genuinely benefit from more outspoken and novel nutrition education.

        October 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  12. Wife of a veggie hater

    My husband is a person who dislikes veggies, I've found a few basic online recipes that he has been happy with, but would love to expand the veggie palette in our home. I think this is a fantastic idea!

    September 29, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
    • Charlie

      I good squeeze of fresh lemon juice will liven up even dull steamed veggies. Just please, stay away from that plastic lemon with the juice in it, or even the bottles. The preservatives in those things ruin the taste, get the juice from the source. A good olive oil saute also works nicely.

      September 29, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • Ituri

      There are a LOT of delicious sauces, simple and complex, that you can use with regular, cooked and raw veggies, either a single veggie or for mixed veggie meals. Oftentimes our spoiled pallates refuse veggies out of sheer bordom, so a simple lemon sauce, white sauce, or even a pepper sauce can make them much more exciting, even if they're just a side dish to the main course.

      There are also a lot of good vegetarian cookbooks out these days, investing in one nice one should give you loads of ideas to play with. You get far better ideas out of real chef-written books than internet suggestions any day, so its worth it for a nice one. We have "The Professional Chef," and EVERY meal is delicious. I'm pretty sure they have a veggie version too.

      September 30, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
    • EMH

      Chili is a great way to get more veggies in. One can fairly easily make a vegetarian chili without overly relying on beans or tofu. If you use chopped eggplant for texture, it will be a lot more filling.

      October 2, 2010 at 7:46 am |
      • meriwyle

        I agree! I have a fabulous chili recipe that calls for green peppers, onions, 5 kinds of beans, crushed tomatoes, corn, and spices. You can add meat, or not, either way, everyone I know begs for me to make this for them. I try to warn all of them about how much fiber is in it, but they don't even slow down. ; )

        October 2, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  13. CSnord

    I like this person. I'm a gourmet cook and she is absolutely right - vegetables are the most interesting ingredients. Proteins are easy and limited. Vegetables can be used in so many ways that they make cooking fun.

    September 29, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
  14. J

    Great idea! I also would like to talk with a live person about the seasonal veggies. There are lots of recipes online, but getting the right vegetables already cut up would make things much easier. The packaged trimmed vegetables are usually tasteless.

    September 29, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  15. Jerald

    People who hate eating vegetables are creatures who have lost touch with Mother Nature. They probably don't exercise or even walk much. Ironically, they have become veggies themselves–couch potatoes. Evolution will deal with them in time.

    September 29, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
    • Mike

      I'd suggest it's the vegetarians that have lost touch with mother nature. Our eyes are in the front of our heads for a reason. Because we're predators. How many herbivore's have canine teeth in nature?

      October 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  16. Go Organic

    Vegetables truely regulate the body, and I think her approach is great. However, I take issue with her suggesting that people buy the cheapest vegetables all the time. The amount of pesticides (neurotoxins) in conventionally grown vegetables are astounding.

    September 29, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
    • Tofru fru

      Are you aware that organically grown vegetables are sprayed with organic pesticides that are both very residual and more toxic than some man made pesticides. By the way, all pesticides are organic, in that they made up of organic compounds. If you are going to avoid pesticides then focus on the produce that specifically states: no pesticides used; and often this produce is not certified organic because for the most part the private organization in charge of that special seal are scam artists and make this process last many growing seasons and cost many big dollars.

      October 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
      • John

        Please tell me what these dangerous organic pesticides are.

        October 3, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  17. KansasJayhawk21

    I think the biggest problem on why people hate vegetables is the way that they are cooked. Being an Indian American, I am easily able to stay vegetarian in America (not because of religion, I am veg. by choice) because I use a variety of vegetables, spices and recipies that offer a wide array of meal options. I would hate eating simple boiled vegetables with salt, or the same mixed green salad with ranch dressing daily. That is not how a vegetarian survives. By focusing on learning how to cook food in a variety of ways, I feel that vegetarians have a multitude of options. We need to change the view of what being a vegetarian really is. I also think that many restaurants don't understand this concept, and these things just perpetuate the ignorance. Wouldn't you hate being a vegetarian if all you ate was salted, boiled vegetables all the time too?

    September 29, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
    • Amish Airline

      Agreed. One strategy I apply when dining out. . .I ask the waiter/waitress to challenge the chef to make me something vegetarian. They generally appreciate the chance to get creative and use their chef skills, instead of slopping together the usual "vegetable primavera" that's on the menu.

      September 29, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
      • Big Kid from S.F.

        And how was your Chef Special"PooPoo Au Gratin" Fresh and hot from the corner of the kitchen.

        September 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
      • Charlie

        Yo, "Big Kid from S.F.", if you really want SOS, (S*** on a shingle), I'll serve it to you. As one of my chef's in culinary school said, "If someone wants deep fried dog poo, I'll sell it to them, doesn't mean that I'm gonna eat it". We ARE professionals, and do appreciate a challenge in our field, though not so much on a busy night. One chef friend of mine would actually tell you what you should order if you came into his place. If it wasn't on the menu, and you ordered something different, (provided he knew it was you), he would come out of the kitchen, tell you what you should have ordered, and then serve you what he recommended in the first place. Gotta love Chef Dan.

        September 29, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
    • EMH

      I would agree. Most workplace and school cafeterias I've been at either boil the vegetables to death, or leave them in salad bars so long they start to get old.

      Fresh veggies are the best, IMO. And I'm from the Midwest, but I like to make stir-fries with curry. That is an awesome way to eat your veggies.

      October 2, 2010 at 7:43 am |
    • Tofru fru

      Not trying to be mean or anything, but all the Indian cuisine I've eaten the vegetables have been stewed steamed and boiled to almost a mush. I refer to lentils, egg plant, potatoes, carrots and especially spinach and greens. And many are served in a a slurry of curry. In my search for new cuisine. what style of Indian cooking prepares veggies with a minimalist approach?

      October 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  18. Susan

    What are the best knives to use on vegetables? I need a new set but we don't cook meat in the home so which is the best?

    September 29, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
    • Amish Airline

      One good santoku knife. Buy the best one you can afford, and keep it sharp. You can't go wrong. (Might want a small paring knife for detail work, but those are cheap.)

      September 29, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
    • Charlie

      Personally, I'm fond on my 12" chef's knife for the majority of my basic cutting needs, especially veggies. Though you might be more comfortable with either an 8" or 10" , (my mom gave me a 12" Henkel she bought online, because the size intimidated her once she saw how big it actually was, I still love and use the 12" chef's knife I had before the Henkel). Well, that and a good mandoline for when I'm making home made potato chips, as well as other things that work better with uniform slices. Beware of making home made potato chips too often, after a while, even the "freshest" of bag chips will taste stale. Though that's not such a bad thing for some of us. I also really like my santoku and will often use it in place my chef's knife. Perhaps the best knife I've found for more delicate work, or detail, is just a basic paring knife. It's really easy to make a tomato peel rose, for garnish, using a paring knife, but I wouldn't even attempt such a thing with my 8" chef's knife, we can forget the 12 on that one. Mentioning tomatoes, if my chef's knives aren't near razor sharp, I will use either my bread knife, of my wavy edge carver for them.

      Seeing as how you don't cook meat in the home, unless you are looking impress, I would forgo buying a complete set, and just get the individual pieces. However: if you are looking to impress, get the biggest set of Henkels you can find. Personally, most of my knives, (nice white handles, you know the ones), were bought at various restaurant supply stores, and can be found at most eateries near you. Most restaurant supply stores do sell to the public, and their pricing is usually extremely competetive.

      September 29, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  19. Kory

    I'm ok... As the son of a female butcher, I'm not trading my beef and pork for wimpy lettuce.

    September 29, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
    • Cryan

      Beef and pork taste best with a side of veggies.

      September 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  20. Bob96

    I guess everyone forgets that most supermarkets already offer trimmed vegetables, in those unfashionable little trays. Next up: bottled water sommeliers...or should that be curators?

    September 29, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
    • Scott

      I think you're missing the point. When you go to the butcher, you talk with a real person. You ask him/her what they just got in. You ask him/her how to prepare the meat. You ask him/her how long to cook it. You ask him/her questions like "what part of the animal is this from?" "what other cuts are like this that I can substitute?"

      The same will go for the veggie butcher. It's a real-live person, waiting for questions, and waiting to help you make cooking easier. I think this is fantastic!

      September 29, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
      • agirlandhercarrot

        I am right there with you! I'm in the health field and it's challenging enough to get clients to eat more vegetables, even once a day! I think convenience is key but people truly don't know how to prepare food. That is one of the biggest missing links. Show them how to prepare it, and they will do it. You can't just tell people what to do, sometimes you need to show them. I hope this becomes a huge trend!

        October 11, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • Big Kid from S.F.

      I think they are called Urineators.

      September 29, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
    • MD/PhD Student

      Well, it's fantastic if you can pay the premium...

      September 30, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • LeoD

      If you have a First Lady who actually can make us interested in eating more good veggies – that is really awesome. She is motivating my siblings to do something that our parents could not! Incredible!!!!

      October 1, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
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