Who: Bennett Haynes, 32
Lives: Columbia Heights
Does: Chief of Produce for ThinkFoodGroup restaurants
My approach to cooking is based on my experiences as a farmer. When I worked with rice farmers in northeastern Thailand, learning how to eat in the dry season was profound for me. It’s a time of the year when home cooking gets very “bare bones,” but it taught me how to make something tasty with only basic ingredients. With sticky rice, a few pieces of dried fish, fermented fish sauce, yardlong beans, chilis, and ginger leaves, you can have a pretty nice lunch.
When I moved back to my home community to start my farm business, I focused on trying to build a self-reliant lifestyle. I grew diverse crops and raised chickens and even a couple pigs. After long days working on the farm, I would watch River Cottage episodes on YouTube and try to smoke sausages or lacto-ferment pickles. As the business grew, I found less time to bake bread or cure meats, but I was able to “farm the world I want to see,” and ate that way as well. Connecting with chefs who genuinely wanted to know their producers reinforced my view of home cooking.
Now that I’m not farming full-time and live in the city, my eating is focused on supporting local farms like mine. I love the seasonality of our region and now let the local farms at DC markets or my winter CSA from Tuscarora Organic Growers dictate what I get excited about cooking. From years of bringing home whatever was leftover from harvesting and packing orders, I love to cook by taking down a big pile of something and transforming it so I can enjoy it later, like pears that get poached and stored in the fridge for future dessert. It’s pretty satisfying to turn a bag of squiggly garlic scapes into pesto and have friends over to dip pita chips and get garlic breath together.
This is the bottom half of my Bialetti Moka nine-cup coffee maker. I started taking sips of my parents’ coffee from this coffee maker in high school and was hooked. It’s an Italian-designed, stovetop percolator that makes what I think of as ‘old style’ espresso, slightly less concentrated than a shot of espresso today. I like to brew single origin coffees from fair trade or direct trade sources, and my roast preference these days is light-medium. I appreciate the nuances of pour-over coffee and French press, but I am deeply committed to the Moka. I kept one with me when I lived in Thailand.
My experiences with coffee tend to ‘float to the top’ every morning. For me, making coffee this way is almost a meditative experience. The stress or anxiety of waking up for work goes away for a few minutes as I appreciate the coffee in front of me. As I prepare my coffee, I think about where the coffee came from and the farmers’ lives and the environment there, or I reflect on my experiences with coffee growers. It brings me a little peace of mind every day. I usually try to foam up a little whole milk for my first cup at my desk and then pour the rest over ice or into my thermos for the rest of the morning in the restaurants.
As much as I love coffee for breakfast, I’m not always good about remembering to eat. But this year’s stone fruit season definitely makes me want to have a bowl of granola almost every day. I’m also just a big fan of yogurt—most evenings when I come home I’ll have a few spoonfuls (I like to think it does wonders for my gut?). Most mornings this week I’ve been cutting up ripe white or yellow peaches from Black Rock Orchard and serving with some Organic Valley Grassmilk yogurt and Michele’s Ginger Hemp granola.
I used to be a real purist when it came to local food, and felt like my diet, while omnivorous, had to be focused on eating whole plants and animals raised as locally as possible, if not raised by myself on my farm. Raising animals for meat also helped me appreciate how much they give to us and how little animal protein we really need in our diet. I don’t think I cook meat more than once a week.
We launched this “Faux Joe” burger at Beefsteak in June to offer an option for anyone who is trying to eat less meat (or avoid it altogether) but also might still be looking for that protein-packed, satisfying sandwich for lunch. Something about that classic American sloppy Joe kept going through our heads and this is what we developed.
Everyone who works in the Beefsteak kitchen knows I love kombucha. On Fridays I do maintenance on all the keg systems, so I need to taste the product! This is mango honeybush with pomegranate poured on top and ice to water it down over the course of the afternoon. It keeps me going when that three o’clock slump hits.
We work with Craft Kombucha because we love their flavor profiles and how it flows on tap with nice effervescence. Working with local partners is my priority and Tanya [Maynigo-Loucks] and her team have been working with us for a few years.
These are some heirloom Japanese red carrots that are grown at SingleThread Farms in California. A colleague brought the seeds back and we planted these in José [Andrés’] garden, which I help maintain when he’s traveling. All the rain this summer has been good for root crops. Here, I was inspired by a carrot dish I had recently and wanted to see if I could replicate it at home. I blanched these carrots whole with peels, then convection roasted them at 450 for about 30 minutes. They came out pretty nice, but of course I didn’t get the seasoning quite right (I think [the restaurant] is using Calabrian chilis and I was using Korean chilis). Still, I love the challenge of trying to replicate restaurant dishes at home.
I also love making sauces, pastes, and purees at home. I even bought a Champion juicer last summer to make more refined berry jams. I made this shakshuka with a quart of chunky heirloom tomato sauce from last summer as we’re trying to clean out the freezer. My wife loves eggs and this was a fun way to do dinner the other night. Plus, I’ll take any excuse to melt feta. José’s garden is overflowing with basil right now, so I garnished this with some leaves and also made a pesto with almonds and lots of lemon juice to throw on top of pasta.
This interview has been edited and condensed.