It’s not exactly a universe-in-the-balance fight like Avengers: Infinity War but earlier this week tensions flared after one of New York’s office-lunch standards, Just Salad, joined fellow roughage slingers Fresh & Co. and Tender Greens in ending the option to chop its salads. Chopt, with it’s modus operandi clearly spelled out, is bringing a double mezzaluna to the fight.
Personally, I liken this whole affair to the over-versus-under discussion of bathroom tissue rolls, but to witness the Slack fights and Tweet storms, for others, it’s clearly a matter of knife and cress.
“It all starts with flavor,” says Chopt founder Colin McCabe. “Because we go to exhaustive lengths to source flavors and ingredients, it’s important to us that these are experienced in one bite. Chopping is a qualitative measure we take, and the salad tastes better for it.”
McCabe’s empire stretches 55 locations in 8 states and touts an international menu expressing the entire world of salad. He was not swayed when offered that steak house staple, the wedge salad, as counterpoint. “You’re still knife-and-forking that. For me, I don’t want a single piece of lettuce with dressing and then a carrot and then a pickled vegetable. I want all of the things in one bite. We’re going to continue chopping. It’s in our name.”
On the other side, Erik Oberholtzer, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tender Greens: “For me, there’s no debate. I’ve never understood why anyone chopped lettuce,” and points to those migrating away from the practice as proof of his no-chop stance. Tender Greens opened in 2006 and has 29 locations in six cities on both coasts. The company claims to use leaves that are larger and more mature, resulting in more structure and more flavor.
“My entire company is run by chefs,” Oberholtzer says. “As chefs, you’d never chop greens. The more you cut them, the more they release moisture, lose texture, and disintegrate. Maybe others come from a business background, not culinary, so they don’t know how to treat the product.” Beyond lettuces, Tender Greens takes the same approach with herbs. “Many need not be chopped. Even the tender stems of dill and cilantro are flavorful and delicate.”
To find out what a top-notch chef does, I contacted James Beard Award nominee Brittanny Anderson, who will appear next week on Iron Chef. “Oh man, I like them both ways!” she says. “But I guess if I’m making a salad for myself, I like it almost like a slaw. You can get way more fun stuff in each bite if it’s chopped.”
On its new menu, Sweetgreen offers Nancy’s Chopped Salad, a collaboration with famed L.A. chef and James Beard winner Nancy Silverton, but declined to comment on the debate. Silverton’s namesake salad at her Pizzeria Mozza was actually inspired by La Scala Beverly Hills, whom many credit with originating the chopped salad so that it would be easier for celebs in gowned-and-tuxedoed finery to eat.
“A collision of elements, that’s the delight,” says Jeff Gordinier, who may or may not wear a tuxedo as food and drink editor at Esquire. For Gordinier, successful cooking is so much about texture, “and a juxtaposition of ingredients sharing space on the fork,” he said. “Chopping intensifies the pleasure of a salad.”
The ever-on-the-go Gordinier also noted that chopping makes salad a faster, more portable nosh. “No unwieldy fronds of greens flicking vinegar into your face. A knife converts salad into subway food.”
Thus, a compromise: Now that you’ve embraced what Gordinier called, “a golden age of salad,” whereby Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette and Sriracha Tzatziki have usurped Thousand Island and Ranch (maybe), let’s agree that you are enlightened enough to be in charge. You’ve learned how to order the right roast/size/milk/shot in your $50 specialty coffee, now it’s time to start specifying your chop. Any decent chain will comply—you’re not being a pain in the asparagus.
Said Chopt’s McCabe, “We believe in customization. Our choppers are trained to do a few passes and say ‘Is that enough for you?’” Even Tender Greens’ Oberholtzer admitted, if you ask nicely, “We’ll chop to order. We’re not militant about it.” Whether you ask for rough, fine, or none, is between you and the Green Goddess. But be quick about deciding. Even a fast knife can supposedly take up to two minutes—which impacts production when there’s a hungry lunch line—so chop-chop.