A world cup style elimination taste test.
54 varieties of okra, 3 North Carolina locations!
The morning of September 25 may feel like any other morning, but in the cities of Asheville, Charlotte and Durham, local-area chefs will converge at three taste testing sites, where 54 varieties of okra will face off against each other in a series of elimination rounds until a single variety reigns supreme.
Chris Smith, executive director of The Utopian Seed Project and author of The Whole Okra, came up with the elimination taste test when he grew 76 varieties of okra in 2018. “We wanted to find the best tasting okra,” says Smith. “But it’s really hard to remember what Okra #1 tasted like when your eating Okra #5, let alone Okra #60…”
Inspired by the 2018 World Cup, Smith split the okra varieties into smaller groups and invited a small crowd of tasters to help him crown a winner. One person could taste just four varieties and choose the best two to progress to the next round, thus limiting the field until a final of two pods could be tasted by everyone. In 2018 a Turkish variety called Yalova Akkoy was unanimously voted the best tasting okra.
One of the tasters in the room that day was Jamie Swofford, The Chef’s Farmer. Swofford was okra-inspired, and has since joined the board of The Utopian Seed Project, which aims to support diversity in food and farming through crop variety trials and the celebration of food. Swofford is growing four of the best performing varieties from 2018 and supplying Charlotte-area chefs with superior tasting okra. Swofford is adjudicating the Charlotte Taste Testing, which will run simultaneously with the Asheville and Durham events. “For me,” says Swofford. “It’s all about growing the best tasting food that I can possibly grow. That’s what the chefs want and the people deserve.”
In 2019 The Utopian Seed Project took on a wide range of crop and variety trials, including an entirely different 50 varieties of okra to 2018. Those varieties plus Swofford’s four, will form the 54 variety taste test. “We don’t think there has ever been an okra taste test on this scale,” says Smith. “It’s going to be pretty exciting.” By collaborating with another food-focused organization, The People’s Seed, the okra taste test is able to reach the chef network of the Triangle area, another food-rich region of North Carolina.
Will the same varieties perform well in all three regions? Will the Turkish variety win for a second year running? Can anyone imagine so much okra in one place?
All these questions and more will be answered on Sept 25.
Chefs are formally invited to take part in the taste testing. Please RSVP via THIS FORM.
Press are formally invited to the event in each respective region, please RSVP via email. For event details and interviews please contact the regional organizer:
Asheville Area (plus general inquiries and photos)
Event Location: Bhramari
Event Location: Free Range Brewing
Event Location: Fullsteam Brewery