Sarah Schafer, the chef at Portland, OR's Irving Street Kitchen, comes from a long line of gardeners. Her grandfather, who lived in Buffalo, NY, grew orchids in his basement and an array of vegetables in his backyard. But as Schafer told me recently, he "loved loved loved tomatoes." Starting at age 15, he planted the heirloom seeds his mother had saved from her parents, who had grown them in Baden-Baden, Germany, and he was pleased with the results. To him, the perfect way to eat them was fresh, sprinkled with salt and a bit of mayonnaise.
Grandfather Schafer saved his seeds religiously, and when Sarah and her
brother were old enough to have gardens of their own, he gave them
seeds. But he never told them what precisely the tomato variety was.
"He was the kind who never liked to share exactly how he did things," said chef Schafer. When Schafer, then executive sous chef at Eleven Madison Park, left New York City for San Francisco and finally had a yard, she sowed a few of the seeds in five separate dimples of soil, and 15 plants emerged. The resulting fruit was memorable. "It was that perfect combination between sweet and acidic," she recalled.