NYC Chefs: Don’t Frack With Our Ingredients

January 04, 2012 at 4:00 am

Chef Mario Batali prepares pizzas at Otto, the Greenwich Village pizzeria he co-owns in New York City. Last month, Batali joined Chefs for the Marcellus, a group of food professionals who are against hydraulic fracking. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Move over Mark Ruffalo — Mario Batali has entered the anti-fracking fracas.

As the Jan. 11 deadline for public feedback on hydraulic fracking in New York approaches, a bevy of bakers, chefs and restaurateurs have formed a coalition to raise awareness about the threat they say the natural gas drilling technique poses to one of New York’s most cherished institutions: its stomach.

“Unless we say no right now, Governor Cuomo is poised to allow fracking in vast areas of the Marcellus Shale, a geologic formation that covers a large area of the mid-Atlantic region, including much of New York’s southern tier — an area of pristine waters; produce, dairy and livestock farms; and breweries and wineries,” the website of Chefs for the Marcellus reads.

Batali, who signed onto the Chefs for Marcellus cause a few weeks ago, joins Brooks Headley, executive pastry chef at Batali’s four-star Italian restaurant Del Posto, Bill Telepan of Telepan and the group’s founder, Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez of PRINT restaurant, as well as about 30 other industry professionals who fear that fracking will threaten the quality and livelihood of restaurants in New York City.

Executive Pastry Chef Brooks Headley poses in the Del Posto kitchen. Like other Chefs for the Marcellus, Headley fears fracking will negatively impact the quality of his ingredients and New York City's water supply. Photo courtesy of Del Posto.

“The main thing is that fracking will affect the [upstate] water and the farms, and eventually the water in New York City,” said Headley. “You can’t mess with water like that. It’s the most important ingredient we use.”

The debate over fracking often focuses on the social, economic and environmental impact it would have on the areas upstate, under which the Marcellus Shale lies. But chefs like Headley and Batali worry about the impact on their eateries in the city.

Many restaurants source their ingredients from farms in areas on or near the Marcellus Shale, leading the chefs to fear that the groundwater could become contaminated if fracking is allowed in New York. Headley often bakes his La Dolce Mela recipe — a dessert served at Del Posto — with apples from Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, N.Y., which is at the edge of the Marcellus.

The second concern, while more contested, is the possibility that small fracking-generated earthquakes could damage the infrastructure of the New York City watershed, directly polluting the city’s drinking water.

“NYC is the greatest city for pizza, and a lot of people say that’s because of the water. If we destroy the water supply, we destroy New York pizza,” said Headley.

But supporters say fracking would bring much-needed jobs and profits to New York State, and several gas and energy companies insist that the practice is harmless.

With the deadline looming, Chefs for Marcellus is encouraging New Yorkers to send their concerns to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and for restaurant professionals to write Gov. Andrew Cuomo directly.

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