Tag Archives: Dan Barber

Know Thy Customer


One of my top-five favorite restaurants in the country is Blue Hill at Stone Barns, up the hill from Tarrytown, New York. For me living in Michigan it’s like a pilgrimage to go there because executive chef Dan Barber is more than a creative culinary artist. He’s an inspiration for home cooks and anyone who eats (that’s everyone!) by creating consciousness around everyday food choices. Three years ago I made the pilgrimage to Stone Barns with my friend and fellow home-chef, Cathy. When we visited this year, we brought Bill.

Arriving at our table we found a Field and Pasture Four Season Journal that lists the potential harvest by month. I loved reading the list and anticipating what we might be eating that night.

Field and Pasture Food Journal

Field and Pasture Food Journal - March

On the restaurant’s website there’s a phrase: Know Thy Farmer. Dan Barber’s philosophy is that great cooking starts with great ingredients. And great ingredients start with great farmers. You can find all the local farms that inspire the menus at both Stone Barns and Blue Hill New York (in Manhattan) by scrolling over a map on their webpage.

But I’d like to offer a new phrase that incorporates both restaurants’ philosophy: Know Thy Customer. The staff goes out of its way to accommodate people with food allergies, like Bill. At Stone Barns, where each meal is a “farmers’ feast” comprised of multi-course tastings from the day’s harvest, no meal is alike. It’s amazing to see how meals are customized for each person. It’s not just about food allergies; it’s about making your experience delightful by being attentive to your preferences–all within the confines of a seasonal harvest.

Here were our preferences for ingredients to avoid:

Bill: Wheat, corn, cow-dairy

Cathy: Mayonnaise

Marcia: Shellfish, mushrooms

We decided upon the 8-course feast, which means a variety of dishes keep coming out over a timespan of two to three hours.

The Vegetables on a Fence was the first to arrive, along with Pickled Asparagus and an egg-yolk dip (that I cannot remember the name of!). We were also given a pot of pea shoots, along with pruning shears (in foreground) with which to cut off the shoots. These were then dragged through the citrus-pepper oil shown on the white ceramic plank.

Vegetables on a Fence and Pickled Asparagus

One of the favorites among the three of us was the “make your own tacos” course served with celery root tortillas. Yes! Tortillas made from celery root! In the center was a nice arrangement of shrimp and mussels, which Cathy and Bill enjoyed. I got to have fresh spinach as a substitute for shellfish.

Make your own tacos

Celery root tortillas

And when Cathy and I were served Red Fife Bread with Marmalade of Greens and Fresh Ricotta, Bill had wedge of roasted rutabaga.

Roasted rutabaga

Because it’s not the time of year for beef, we enjoyed a Parsnip Steak instead, cut  tableside by our server. The way it was prepared, you would have thought you were eating steak. It was so delicious.

Parsnip Steak cut tableside

Parsnip Steak

To see the other courses we enjoyed, check out the slideshow below. We really enjoyed our meal and the excitement of wondering what would be served next.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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Killing Your Dinner: Why Locavorism Isn’t for the Elite


One of my favorite chefs, who I think is doing food right, is Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns near Tarrytown, New York.

Recently I came across an interview with him by CNN in reaction to Mark Zuckerberg’s comment on his private Facebook page that he had “just killed a pig and a goat”–to eat. While some people claim that killing animals yourself for food is elitist, Dan Barber takes the locavore perspective.

According to CNN, Zuckerberg has made killing any meat he eats this year his personal goal, which Barber says is “an incontestably moral act.” Barber has slaughtered animals for meat himself. “I do think it’s important for anyone who wants to be conscious of their food and where it comes from,” he says.

(That’s why, one of these days, I’m going to kill my own chickens.)

I like what Barber says when asked how we can accomplish slaughtering our own animals on a large scale: “The problem isn’t the expense; it’s the inconvenience. I’m not suggesting that the future of locavorism will look like a world of hunter gatherers — and it won’t be all farmers’ markets either.”

“For this movement to work, we have to establish a system of well-coordinated regional “foodsheds” (networks that encompass farms, markets and consumers), each suited to what it can best grow. That means more farmers, but also more local distribution and processing centers, reviving the regional infrastructure that’s disappeared over the last 50 years. Call it regionavore — the next step in the locavore movement.”

And, this statement pretty much sums up the last two years for me: “Killing your own food is an incontestably moral act,” says Barber. “I think that’s something people recognize once they see the process, if it’s done respectfully. That’s reinforced for me in the kitchen every day. I can tell by the way something tastes–by the texture of the meat, for instance — whether that animal was treated with respect in death.”

Check out the rest of the interview for the whole story.

Taste of Greenmarket 2010: A Celebration of Local Farmers, Food, and the Chefs Who Champion Them


Last Wednesday night Bill and I had the opportunity to attend the Third Annual Taste of Greenmarket in New York City, and what a feast it was. But it wasn’t just about eating. The event is a celebration of local farmers and food, and the chefs who champion them, all to benefit the Greenmarket’s Youth Education Project. A program of the nonprofit GrowNYC, Greenmarket is the largest and most diverse outdoor farmers market in the country.

Here’s how the event will help New York City school kids:

  • Greenmarket tours
  • Interactive Meet Your Farmer classroom visits
  • Farm Fresh Cooking Classes with professional chefs
  • On the Farm visits so city kids can learn how food is grown and how animals are raised
  • Seed to Plate standards-aligned curricula

The event was locavore heaven. Imagine the best chefs in New York, getting together in one location, using local ingredients, and offering their creations to sample all in one night. I had heard about the Taste of Greenmarket last year but not in time to be able to get to New York. This year, Bill and I planned ahead.

The place was packed.

Bill and I managed to sample many dishes.

Such as beer-poached lamb butter sausage with apple mostarda and Drunk Monk cheese from Rose Water.

And sheep’s yogurt panna cotta with Tristar strawberries and anise hyssop from Craftbar.

As well as short rib terrine with red Russian kale and tomato jam from Employees Only.

Around 30 chefs and mixologists were at the event including:

Julia Jaksic of Employees Only. She made the delicious beef rib terrine shown above. (Check out her blog, The Butcher’s Daughter, to see what else she’s up to.)

April Bloomfield (at far right) of The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory Oyster Bar. She made a fabulous fresh market bean and zucchini soup, by the way.

Dan Barber of Blue Hill New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. (Check out last summer’s blog posts to read how much I enjoyed my experience at both restaurants: “A Farmer’s Feast” and “Farm to City Dining.”)

Here are photos representing some of the other restaurateurs that created delicious tastes for us.

There was also a silent auction to raise additional funds for the cause.

And, did you notice the plates the food was served on? It’s “dinnerware from fallen leaves,” by Verterra. These environmentally-friendly plates, bowls and serving dishes are made only from two products: fallen leaves and water.

It was a very fun event, for a good cause and with ethical thinking behind it. Bill and I were so glad we attended, tasted, and contributed to a fundraiser with such a valuable purpose.

Farm to City Dining: Blue Hill, Manhattan


Last month, I had the pleasure of eating at Blue Hill restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village. It was all part of a girl’s weekend with my friend Cathy, which began with dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York.

When we arrived at the Manhattan restaurant, we were given the option to try the tasting menu or choose from the regular menu. After our delectable farmer’s feast at Stone Barns the night before, how could we resist the tasting menu?

Although some dishes–such as the vegetable fence–were similar to the Stone Barns feast, we enjoyed a variety of in-season produce and locally raised meats, as well as an attentive wait staff who helped make our experience top-notch.

You’ll have to excuse the dark photos….I took them with my phone camera in order to be as discreet as possible, but they are darker than I’d like them to be. That’s the trade-off for a blogger dining in a restaurant that makes ambience a priority (which is definitely a priority for me!).

Here’s the vegetable fence, which you can also see in the Stone Barns post from last month.

 

Some of the other dishes we enjoyed were: a variation on gazpacho, poached eggs with fresh spring peas, and pasture-raised chicken.

And for dessert, of course we had strawberry canoli with ricotta since strawberries were in season, followed by homemade marshmallows with coconut and dark chocolate truffles.

When you try the tasting menu, it’s like Christmas Day for foodies: Every dish is a seasonal surprise, presented simply yet elegantly, and as fresh as can be. That’s because Executive Chef Dan Barber knows how to bring the principles of good farming directly to the table–making your dining experience an educational experience as well as a treat for the palate.

A Farmer’s Feast: Blue Hill at Stone Barns


For me, going to Blue Hill at Stone Barns was like a pilgrimage. I’ve been reading about Dan Barber and his farm to table philosophy for about a year and planned to visit this locavore destination the next time I took a trip to my old stomping grounds of North Jersey.

Last weekend, I made the pilgrimage. Located outside of Tarrytown, New York, it’s a short drive from my friend Cathy’s house. She accompanied me to the “farmer’s feast” as they call it at Stone Barns.

But first, we took a walk around the grounds at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a working four-season farm and educational center, where the restaurant is located. This is where the restaurant sources some of its seasonal ingredients, in addition to other local farms in the Hudson Valley. (I really wish I lived closer to this place. When we went to the visitors’ center, I picked up a flyer that listed all the programs happening in June and July–from tours to egg collecting to writers’ workshops!)

After exploring, it was time for dinner. Here’s the entrance to the restaurant.

There are no menus at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Instead, you have the option for a five-course or eight-course tasting menu–the farmer’s feast–which is derived from over a hundred ingredients and updated daily.

Cathy and I chose the eight-course tasting menu.  But first, we started with a glass of champagne to celebrate our vacation time together. (Our bottle of Cristom Pinot Noir is breathing patiently in the foreground.)

From then on, it was pure locavore heaven. Although we took photos of everything we ate, there were so many tastes it’s impossible to include everything in this blog post. Here’s a sampling of what we ate that night. (To the staff at Blue Hill at Stone Barns: I did my best to name them from what Cathy and I could recall the next day!)

Grilled Fava Beans with Saffron Salt

Vegetables on a Fence

Mini Pea Burgers with Goat Cheese

Prosciutto, Asparagus, and Sesame on a Stick

Frittata with Capicola

Bologna, Pancetta, and Capicola from the Stone Barns Charcuterie

American Sturgeon Caviar and Veal Marrow

Red Fife Bread with Marmalade of Fresh Greens and Ricotta

Salad of Fresh Greens with Yoghurt

Fresh Bread and Butter with Variety of Vegetable Infused Salts

Blowfish and Sweet Peas with Mint

Baked Eggs with Herbs in Rice Paper

Pasta with Embryonic Egg Yolk Truffle

Pork Tenderloin with Salt Fat in Mustard Sauce

We didn’t end it there with a savory course; we moved on to the sweets, but it was getting pretty dark for photography by then. Our feast was rounded out with:

New Blueberries in a Cup
Raspberries and Cream
Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Bar
Honey Truffles with Honeycomb

Cathy and I had an enjoyable evening, leisurely eating our way through the farmer’s feast, and sampling myriad ingredients assembled with so much creativity–all in the presence of a very attentive wait staff.

During the feast, we observed Dan Barber mingling with guests in the dining room. At the end of our meal we were pleasantly surprised to be invited by Yates, our lead server, into the kitchen where we had the privilege to be introduced to Dan and have a peek at what goes on behind the scenes. This was the icing on the cake for me–to meet one of the people in this country who, I believe, is taking the right approach to growing, cooking, and eating happy food.

On top of that, he’s instrumental in his education and awareness efforts to help others learn how to make conscious decisions about everyday food choices by bringing the principles of good farming directly to the table.

Thanks to everyone at Blue Hill at Stone Barns who brought the farm to the table for Cathy and me, giving us an authentic tasting experience.

The Essence of Farm to Table Eating: Q and A with Dan Barber


Yesterday, I mentioned four of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People”: thinkers and heroes involved in the food movement. Another influential person I would add to the list is Dan Barber, who was recognized last fall in The Green Revolution, a Time 100 Roundtable, and in Time’s 2009 “100 Most Influential People.”

Dan Barber is executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York. His tagline, “Know Thy Farmer” sums up his idea that “great cooking starts with great ingredients. And great ingredients start with great farmers.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his philosophy toward great cooking and his thoughts about the future of the food system in this country. (Thanks to Charlotte Douglas and Irene Hamburger for assisting with this interview!)

Here are my questions and his responses:

Marcia Davis: Your grandmother and Blue Hill Farm have obviously inspired you to focus on local and seasonally grown food. Are there other sources of inspiration for creating food the way you do each day?
 
Dan Barber: I’ve been incredibly inspired on some recent trips to Europe—not only by great chefs, but by great farmers who are revolutionizing the way we think about agriculture.
 
MD: What do you see your restaurant, grocery stores, eating habits, etc. like in ten years?
 
DB: I think we’re going to see a dramatic change in our food system in the next ten years. Until today, we’ve been able to afford industrial agriculture based on three things: cheap energy, abundant water and predictable climate. It’s given us cheap food, but at an enormous cost, degrading the ecological resources that make production possible.  As those resources disappear, we’re all going to have to change the structure of how we grow and consume food. That means more diversity and fewer chemical amendments on our farms. It means less packaging and more local foods in restaurants and grocery stores. And it means diets that are more in tune with what our locality can provide. In other words, it’s going to be a lot more delicious.

MD: What’s your process for developing menus and what do you like about it?
 
DB: At Blue Hill at Stone Barns, there are no menus—at least not the traditional kind. Instead, we prepare multi-course “Farmer’s Feast” based on the day’s harvest. Each table receives a different menu, so it allows for a lot more creativity in the kitchen.
 
MD: How does it feel to cook using your philosophy and then to see the majority of people eating fast food and processed food?
 
DB: It’s hard to blame people—the irony of our current food system is that the food grown in a conventional monoculture thousands of miles away is cheaper and more convenient that food from your local farmers market. For those farmers to compete—to be able to produce and distribute good food for every community—we need to revive the regional infrastructure that’s disappeared over the last 50 years. That’s the next step.
 
MD: Our food system is structured to feed many people inexpensively; how can we feed a whole country based on your philosophy for cooking and eating?
 
DB: The good news is that small and mid-size, chemical-free, diversified farms—the farms growing the food we want to eat—are enormously productive. At the height of the last season, we produced 28,000 lbs of food at Stone Barns. That’s off of 6.5 vegetables production acres, and 22 acres of pasture. That’s an average of 1,000 pounds an acre. Which is more food than the typical Iowa cornfield, and about fifty times more flavorful.

******

To read more about Dan Barber, check out the numerous articles listed on BlueHillFarm.com, including The Washington PostThe Atlantic, The New York Times, O magazine, Gourmet magazine, and Audubon magazine, just to name a few.

And to hear it from the chef himself, read his collection of musings on the Blue Hill Farm site.