Dan Barber: What is the best meal you've ever eaten?
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: Well I’ve had so many great meals. But a part of it is just like the context, you know? And that’s another thing that chefs really understand is like . . . You know there’s great cooks and there’s great chefs. And chefs, I think, understand that context is just as important as the food. So I told you about food stories, and I think that plays into that. Not that I’m a great chef, but I think that it’s an important aspect of being something more than just, you know, kind of ego driven chef. But the other part of it is like controlling the context. So . . . And that’s very hard to do, especially in Midtown Manhattan or anywhere in Manhattan. It’s very hard to like get people to think about other things than their job or their hectic life. And again, I point to Mario Batali. I think he does it well. You walk into his restaurants and you get a feeling for something that’s much larger than just the food that’s on the plate. My own personal experience is, you know, I was stodging . . . I was doing this internship in France for several years even. And at the end of it I treated myself. I took a ... down to the south, and I had a meal when Allan ... was really just starting. I mean he’d just gotten three stars at ..., and he was the up and coming guy. I mean now he’s the most famous chef in the world, but back then he was really in the kitchen. And I had a meal that I’ll never forget because, you know, it was my last time in France and it was just like . . . It was really something to behold because everything sort of came together at that meal. It was an extraordinary meal, and I remember crying over the pea soup. I got so tired, too. I was so rundown, and I just remember eating the pea soup and just crying because it was just such an expression of Southern France. It was like it had all these Italian influences in it, and it was very light, and you could see the future of cuisine. And I was just tasting it. And I had been in Paris where it was quite traditional. I was in a very traditional, old school restaurant. There was lots of butter and cream, and delicious, and great, but you saw this thing that was not just a master at work. It was a master at work within the right environment that conveyed that. And those kind of meals are just like . . . they are so priceless. You know so . . . I mean it was a three-star restaurant, so it’s like a little predictable that you’d have this great meal there. But I actually did . . . It actually really delivered on what . . . It’s so hard, you know? Like it’s so hard to walk into a restaurant and have the expectation level. The press, they tend to play up so much, and they . . . You know these chefs in these restaurants you go in, I feel like 99.9 percent of the time you’re like a little bit disappointed. So it’s those chefs that can really reach those heights. And they can’t just do it through the food. Chefs know that. Or you go the other way, like the David Changs of the world who, you know, under promise and over deliver. You know and that’s the great . . . That’s the great quality of chefs is when you can have an environment in your restaurant that you walk in, and you’re a little bit like, you know . . . The ceilings are low. Or your . . . you . . . There’s paper on the tables like at Blue Hill New York. Or you know the glassware isn’t so great. And then all of a sudden the food comes out and it’s blow away incredible, you know? And it’s that way because it’s met your expectation and actually exceeded it. When does that ever happen in this world today? It’s like whether it’s a movie or whatever it is, it’s like it’s always a little bit disappointing from what you’ve expected. And so when you have an experience that can meet that expectation or even supercede it, it’s like man. It’s just incredible. So controlling the context is a big part of it, and that’s a fight in New York. And one of the great advantages that Stone Barns has is we’re out in this idyllic landscape. We have the opportunity to control people’s context and people’s understanding of what they’re eating. And that’s . . . That makes me, again, look like such a better chef. Recorded on: 2/11/08
A great meal supersedes all expectations, Barber says.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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