Dan Barber: Growing Up in New York, Finding Peace on a Farm

Author and Chef

DAN BARBER is the Chef of Blue Hill, a restaurant in Manhattan's West Village, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, located within the nonprofit farm and education center, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. His opinions on food and agricultural policy have appeared in the New York Times, along with many other publications. Barber has received multiple James Beard awards including Best Chef: New York City (2006) and the country's Outstanding Chef (2009). In 2009 he was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.

To expand on his philosophy of cooking with sustainably grown, local ingredients, Dan has been working with such organizations as the Kellogg Foundation, Slow Food USA and Earth Pledge to minimize the political and intellectual rhetoric around agricultural policies and to instead maximize the appreciation of eating good food. Focusing on the issues of pleasure, taste and regional bounty-and how these imperatives are threatened-Dan helped create the philosophical and practical framework for Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and continues to help guide it in its mission to create a consciousness about the effects of everyday food choices.

He is author of the book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food.

  • Transcript


Dan Barber: I’m from the Upper East Side of New York City, and it’s shaped me because I’m a neurotic, finicky, Upper East Side Jew. I don’t know. How has it shaped me? I was . . . I grew up in the Upper East Side, and I spent a lot of time at Blue Hill Farm in the Berkshires, which was my grandmother’s farm, and now is my brother, and my sister, and my farm in Southern Berkshire County. And it’s where I spent all the summers. And I farmed, and I . . . Yeah, I took care of the agriculture end of things growing up. So I had these two lives, and it’s informed . . . I don’t know. I mean you know, that was a big . . . I think it was unconsciously like a big reason why I got into cooking and the kind of cooking that I do. My grandmother used to . . . I really loved the spot and . . . She was renting a house at the bottom of this hill. We’re on top of the hill, and she was at the bottom. She liked to go out and exercise, and she loved this spot right on the top of Blue Hill Road. So she used to walk up there every day and ask the two brothers who owned the land if they would ever sell. And they always thought she was a little kooky. They said they’d been in three generations and dah, dah, dah. And then finally after a year or two she got . . . she came up and one of the brothers came running over and said, “Mam, you wanna buy the place? Buy it now. We got into the worst fight. We’re gonna kill each other.” And she said, “Sure, I’m interested.” He said, “Buy it today or we’re selling it to the bank.” And so she signed a . . . went down to the real estate person and they signed it that day. She didn’t even know what she was buying, and it ended up being about 700 acres of this incredible open pastureland, of which we now have about 250, 300 acres. When my grandmother was alive we were pasturing beef cattle. So you know part of the responsibility was helping to hay the land, and move the cows, and keep them fed. And then my grandmother did a lot of gardening, so I was responsible for picking, and harvesting, and weeding, and all that stuff. So that kind of informed my sensibilities today I would imagine.

Recorded on: 2/11/08