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.
Dan Barber: I mean you know you ask any farmer what’s in season and they’ll look at you like you’re crazy. I mean there’s stored stuff and there is nothing. But in fact there is a lot in season now, and what we’re harvesting out of the greenhouse and out of these winter tunnels out in the, you know, 50 cent per yard little fabric tunnels outside . . . and mind you it’s 20 . . . 18 degrees outside right now, but we’re harvesting ..., lettuce greens, and kale, and Swiss chard. And we’re harvesting Jerusalem artichokes which have been in the ground since last summer and are literally sugar. So tonight you come to Blue Hill and you’ll have sliced ... with artichokes and Jerusalem artichoke puree, and these beautiful salads that are a part of our agriculture only 20 miles north of here. And we’re also harvesting pigs, and eggs, and sheep, and I mean on and on. The winter agriculture for animals is like . . . It’s a no-brainer around here. You know so we tend to like have a lot more meat on the menu in the winters, and we tend to have lots of salads and root vegetables for this time of year. But I’m also . . . You know I’m not like a purian. I’m not squeaky clean. I’m not . . . You know I would hate to think that like I’m trying to talk about an agriculture . . . about an experience at Blue Hill that’s like a Shaker village 100 years ago. You know like we have to live like they lived then to be pure about locality and about sustainability. That just doesn’t make any sense to me. We have a big food chain that in some sense is . . . is delicious too, you know? It’s very efficient. And to the extent that I can know the farmer in California, or Florida, or in Texas or beyond, you know great. But I indulge in that too. I love tropical fruit at this time of year. You know I love avocados. We get some of those in. There’s nothing that is worse than being, you know, pedantic about this thing for the sake of it. The localvore movement is something that’s very popular now and I love it. It’s great. People are trying to do all these meals for less than 100 miles are 150 miles from these food sheds. It’s great. But for a restaurant that you’re trying to appeal to the most sophisticated and demanding clientele in Westchester County or in New York City than anywhere in the world, you know I don’t think there’s a problem with ... It’s a question of percentages. So in August if I’m serving you tropical fruit, we’ve got issues. But for right now I don’t mind indulging in fruits and vegetables a little bit from around the world. So there you go. That flies in the face of the whole sustainability/local thing, but I don’t care. It’s confusing the situation, but I think confusing instructively.
Recorded on: 2/11/08