These days it’s easy to get lost in the sea of fast-casual dining options. The lines are now blurred between the organic and locally sourced and conveyer-belt-style service and takeaway containers. In short, for many city dwellers, it’s not hard to get a good, wholesome, quick meal these days.
Dig Inn opening next week in Copley Square looks much like its predecessors — an interior plucked from the pages of West Elm and a farm-to-table concept with promises of tasty, pick-your-protein meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But it's taking a slightly different approach to food; and the team behind it wants you to know about it. For one, they want to buy a farm.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into at first,” laughs culinary director Matt Weingarten. “But the farming community partners we’ve reached out to have been supportive and generous with information.”
The idea is idyllic at least, a Gwyneth Paltrow fever dream at most. The hope is to purchase a farm in the Hudson Valley area by the end of the year. Weingarten knows it's not realistic to expect that single farm to provide its 11 New York City locations (with Boston on the way), but he sees it as one part provider, one part educational tool.
“We know this isn’t going to be our sourcing solution for everything we need to buy,” he explains. “We’ll be growing some vegetables that we’ll be putting on the menu, but we really want to start a dialogue and spend more time with the agricultural community. We want a place I can send a barista or a line cook for a week, and say, ‘This is where our food comes from.’ And they can work with the produce and talk to the farmers and learn a little.”
Dig Inn’s veggie-focused menu concept lends itself well to a staff education that zooms in on agriculture. While proteins like five-spice chicken, pork meatballs and miso-marinated Alaskan salmon make appearances, it’s clear that produce is the star of the show. This, of course, is reliant on good farms.
“We’re trying to make a carrot be the most delicious carrot you can imagine, and we can’t do that without delicious produce to start with,” Weingarten says. “The mantra I have with my supply directors is the [the farmers] drive the menu. Work with the farmers, and we’ll make those products shine.”
For that reason, Weingarten doesn’t train his chefs and line cooks to work with strict recipes — in fact, recipes are borderline forbidden.
“In the kitchen, if something tastes off, and the chef says, ‘But I followed the recipe,’ and they may have, but the recipe might have been designed for a more mature squash or a less sweet carrot. The recipes are meant as guides. We want them to convey what we’re trying to attempt but it doesn’t always equate the end flavor we're going for. I believe strongly that everyone from our chefs to our line cooks and prep cooks should know what we're looking for and seek out that moment when we're cooking it.”
As a result, your experience from one Dig Inn location to the next might be a little different based on the region and the chefs behind the counter, and Weingarten thinks that's a good thing. “There’s nothing on the menu that we can set and forget,” he adds. “We’re passionate about having cooks who are learning while cooking.”
Dig Inn opens July 13 at 557 Boylston St., Boston.