He has been called America’s philosopher chef, a zealot committed to changing the way we eat. Dan Barber is to sustainable farm-to-table dining what Hervé This was to molecular gastronomy. Central to his holistic vision is a complete overhaul of the way farms farm, cooks cook, and diners dine, so that a symbiotic thread joins them all together. From his Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan, to his Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, Barber’s mission is to link our tastes as diners to the needs of farms and the land itself. His goal is nothing short of changing the world, but he can trace it all back to a plate of scrambled eggs.
Barber’s mother died when he was four years old, and his businessman father was no cook. One day, when Barber was sick with a sore throat, an aunt made him a plate of silky scrambled eggs with butter that awakened something in him. He realised that food was love, and that a simple egg had the power to lift moods or even change lives. He is a 1992 graduate of Tufts University, where he received a B. A. in English, and a graduate of the French Culinary Institute.
Barber spent part of his childhood on his grandmother’s farm at Blue Hill, Massachusetts, where he developed a deep appreciation of the land, its produce and the seasons. By the time he opened Blue Hill restaurant in Greenwhich Village in 2000, he was only just beginning to understand the importance of good farmers in creating great flavours. Every ingredient on the plate at Blue Hill must have a purpose and a meaning. Every plate must add up to something larger still. And all of it must loop back to the farmers, the land and the whole ecosystem.
At his Stone Barns Center in the Pocantico Hills in upstate New York, Barber has worked with universities, scientists and plant breeders to arrive at new varieties of produce with extraordinary flavours. He co-founded the Row 7 Seed Company, which brings together chefs and plant breeders to develop new varieties of vegetables and grains. Thanks to this research and Barber’s inspiration, growers have produced game changing vegetables like sweet honeynut squash, and Lamoka potatoes, which Barber used to make his famous doughless pizza (alongside non-heirloom Mountain Magic tomatoes). Barber has even been known to feed his chickens high-carotenoid peppers to make red egg yolks.
At Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Barber has won plaudits for dishes such as sea urchin with kobocha squash, and kohlrabi with nasturtium and plum. His tobacco-wrapped eggplant is a real crowd-pleaser that makes diners question the food on their plate. His Vegetables On A Fence dish presents tiny lettuce leaves, carrots and fennel bulbs in a row. Frequently one of the highlights of the Blue Hill experience is a bread course. They bake their own bread, of course, but they also grind their own flour, and it is made with Barber’s very own ‘200%’ wholemeal wheat (with added bran).
Blue Hill has one Michelin star, and it was awarded 3 stars by food critic Frank Bruni in the New York Times. In 2018, Blue Hill at Stone Barns reached No.12 on the World’s Best Restaurants list, and won the Chef’s Choice award. Dan Barber has received multiple James Beard awards, including Best Chef New York City in 2006 and Outstanding Chef in 2009. In the same year he was named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. And he was appointed to serve the US government by President Barack Obama.
Dan Barber’s accolades are one thing, but it is his voice that will have lasting impact on the way we eat. His position as one of the world’s most respected chefs helps him spread his message of sustainability and environmental awareness. His book The Third Plate is his manifesto, and it reminds us that some of the world’s most iconic recipes were made with ingredients that were grown out of the need to keep the soil fertile and healthy for future generations. His goal is that we keep that in mind with every delicious bite.