TWIN FALLS, IDAHO — You may not be familiar with Calvin Lamborn’s name. But you know his delicious life’s work. He is the plant breeder responsible for creating the first commercially viable sugar snap pea in 1979.
It’s hard to imagine a time without those sweet, crunchy pea pods. But before Lamborn worked his magic, you couldn’t find sugar snap peas regularly at farmers markets or supermarkets. Oh, and those stringless sugar snap peas we all adore because they don’t have to be peeled? Yup, he created those, too.
At 80 years of age now, Lamborn is not thinking about slowing down anytime soon. And top chefs in New York are sure thankful for that. Lincoln Ristorante, Union Square Cafe, The Breslin, wd-50 and more clamor to use his handiwork in their dishes — over-sized pea 52s that taste as sweet as candy, snap peas the bold color of a red chile pepper, and frilly pea leaves the likes of which no one had ever seen before.
What makes his work all the more incredible is the fact that he accomplished all of this after the seed company for which he created the sugar snap forced him to “retire” in a move to down-size. Lamborn wasn’t nearly ready to do so. Thanks to his moxie, the culinary world is a much more wondrous place now.
Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Lamborn at his test field in Idaho and even hitching a ride on the electric two-person chair he invented to maneuver through the rows.