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Can the food industry handle our addiction to kale?



Produce goes in and out of style just like skinny jeans. But kale, it seems, is here to stay.

Despite proclamations of dandelion greens and collards as the next kale, consumers just aren’t buying it. They want their Tuscan and Curly and Red Russian, and they want it juiced and in salads and massaged. And they want it every. single. day.

The rough-around-the-edges green now has its own S&M-inspired recipe collection, 50 Shades of Kale (must be its super-sexy nutrient-density). And according to The New York Timessocialites won’t deign to visit an establishment or soiree where kale’s not already on the list. “For some reason when you go to a restaurant and they have a kale salad on the menu, you automatically accept that it’s a cool spot,” one DJ told the The Times.

So, where is all of this kale coming from? In the kitchen and in the fields, restaurant owners and farmers are working away figuring out how to keep up with kale demand. Here, a few reflect on their relationship with the coveted green. —Lisa Elaine Held

The Kale Crew. Clockwise from top left: Maury Rubin, Chris Ronis, Ross Franklin, Benay Vynerib

Maury Rubin, City Bakery

Around 2 p.m. today I was in the kitchen talking kale, and kale supply, and customer want of kale, and kale market pricing, and kale wholesale gougers, and telling someone we were in for another full season of Intense Desire & Want of Tuscan kale, that there was no receding movement on it yet, and that next year something else would dislodge it. (Mercy, mercy, please let that be true.)

My quiet secret here is that we’ve had all the kale we’ve wanted this year, but that’s because the volume of our usage is so large (I say humbly). We have several Greenmarket farmers as suppliers who seriously watch our kale backs and keep us very well-stocked.

Chris Ronis, Northern Spy Co.

The Kale Salad outsells all of our menu items at least four fold. We sell more than 1,000 kale salads a week. We go through 10 cases minimum a week.

Until recently, with kale’s outsize popularity, it was not something farmers would grow typically in the high season. Three years ago, in the summer months it was harder to find good quantities of the kale we wanted, which is Tuscan or Lacinato kale. However, we have definitely seen that there’s more kale available now because of its rampant use on menus around the city. In addition to Tuscan kale, we also mix in curly kale and when we can’t get enough Tuscan, we increase the amount of curly or find other suitable varieties.

Northern Spy Co.
Northern Spy Co.’s famous kale salad.

Benay Vynerib, Candle 79

Kale is big for us. We have a kale salad at all three restaurants (Candle 79, Candle Cafe, Candle Cafe West), and it’s our top seller at all three. We also have a drink at Candle 79, Angel’s Elixir, that’s blended with kale, banana, grapefruit, and ice. Angel (the executive chef) created it when he went on a health kick, and people love it.

At 79 alone, we go through 10 cases a week, and there are 24 bunches in a case. That’s a lot of kale. Angel has no problem sourcing it, though. We called the farmers and asked them why, and they said that because there’s so much more demand, they’re just planting more and more. The prices do get higher in the summer because of the heat.

I have a funny story, too. When Angel tried it several years ago as a special, before it was on the menu, Tom Wolfe came in and got very excited. He said ‘I was dreaming about kale, and I was wondering why more restaurants don’t do more kale salads?!’”

Ross Franklin, Liquiteria

At Liquiteria, we go through hundreds of pounds of kale per day! With the rise in health-conscious consumers, the demand for kale is definitely high. Kale is a cooler weather plant and is vulnerable to hot weather, which has a strong impact on the availability and price of kale. The price of kale, like other produce, fluctuates daily with changes in the weather, as well as with its popularity.