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Interviewee: Dan Barber
Interviewer: Judith Weinraub
Session #2
New York City
Date: March 8, 2011
Q: It’s March 8, 2011, and I’m with Dan Barber in his restaurant, Blue Hill, in
Greenwich Village.
Barber: Hello.
Q: Good afternoon. We left off with your signing the lease for this wonderful restaurant.
So let’s talk a little bit about how it defined itself, your relationship with it, how it grew.
Barber: Almost immediately we were quite filled with diners, for a variety of reasons. I
mean, we got very good press initially.
Q: How did that happen, that you got press immediately?
Barber: New York. [laughs] You know, I don’t know. The press seems to give you
about an hour to open and then it floods in and gives its recommendation.
Q: Well, actually, on your website I was reading some of the things that you had written,
and particularly the incident with Mr.–how do you pronounce it—Holozubiec?
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Barber: Yes.
Q: Could you tell that story? So that was about three weeks after you opened, it seemed
to be.
Barber: That’s right. I mean, it started in three. It went on for a little while. It was a
man who our manager assumed was The New York Times reviewer, William Grimes, and
so he noticed him the first time he was in, and we sort of turned the kitchen inside out to
give him the best meal possible. This Mr. Grimes character came in many, many times
over the course of a few months.
Q: As a solo eater?
Barber: No, he came in with a few people, but he was incredibly knowledgeable about
the menu and the wine list, and it was striking that—I mean, it just made so much sense
that he was a reviewer, in a variety of ways, which I wrote about for Gourmet magazine a
few years ago. But anyway, it turned out that we had a classic case of mistaken identity.
Q: Why did you think—
Barber: Well, he had a likeness to William Grimes, and once someone suggested that, no
one said, “Well, wait a minute.” Back in those days, there was no Internet pictures of
reviewers, so there was no one to say, “No, it’s not,” until the day when he was in the
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house, somebody visited the restaurant, a friend of mine who’s a waiter at another
restaurant, and I’ll never forget him walking in the kitchen, and I said, “I can’t talk to you.
Grimes is in the house.”
And he said, “Where? What table?” He walked out to the dining room, looked at
the table, looked at Grimes, then came back and said, “I know that’s not Grimes like I
know that’s not my sister.” [laughs] I’ll never forget that. This is months and months of
having this guy come in, and we just really turned the kitchen upside down to give him
the best possible food and service.
You know, it’s interesting, like what I wrote in the piece and what I really feel to
this day is that it very much helped us become a better restaurant, because in our focus
for excellence, we saw mistakes that were going on and a lot of—
Q: What kinds of things did you do?
Barber: Service oriented. There’s that famous quote, “Baseball is a game of inches.”
Restaurant is a game of just half-inches. There are so many variables to making your
meal, your dining experience successful. It’s part of the reason that so many restaurants
fail and run out of energy after a certain amount of time, because these endless variables
are very hard to control, and they’re extremely hard to control when you’re opening and
no one is into any kind of rhythm and there’s no general sort of procedure on anything.
And so young restaurants—although today it’s a bit different, because people are just so
much more professional, but back then and I think even before we opened, it’s just hard
to do, hard to open a restaurant, hard to open any company.
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Q: And this was your first on your own?
Barber: Yes, it was. It was, and I was making tons of mistakes too.
Q: What kind?
Barber: I don’t think the food was quite what we wanted it to be. We were short-staffed.
We were, as I said, immediately busy, and so it was very difficult to make that work. At
any rate, so it was an unfortunate thing that it was a mistaken identity.
On the other hand, when Grimes did eventually come, I think even though we
didn’t actually recognize him, I think we were a better restaurant because we were
prepared for striving for this sort of like another level of excellence, and it conditioned us
to work for that and what does it mean to do that, actually, in reality, instead of just
thinking about it as you’re falling asleep. So in looking back on it, it was a sort of fruitful
missed identity.
Anyway, we did end up getting a review soon after from Gourmet magazine itself,
which was a really kind of defining review, because it talked about our association with
farmers’ markets. The writer, Jonathan Gold, the great writer, great food writer, he came
in one night in particular, I remember, where it was very late in spring and it was sort of
the end of asparagus season, and I’d gone to the market that morning and had gotten all
these cases of asparagus to load up, and we had like eight cases of asparagus already in
the walk-in. I was so angry that we were disorganized and we were spending money
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where we shouldn’t have been, and those asparagus were going bad. So I just said,
“Everything on the menu needs to be asparagus. Everything.” You know, one of those
rageful sort of chef’s stupid moments. So everyone took me seriously, and asparagus
were added to everything, the soup, the fish, the meat.
Jonathan Gold came in and saw asparagus in everything, and he knew the time of
year, and he’s pretty savvy at that moment about local food, and he loved it. He loved it.
It’s the kind of thing that high-end restaurants weren’t doing, and we did it just out of this
stupid anger. When I saw it was on every dish, I wanted to reverse and have them not do
it, but I’d already said it, and it was my authority, and I remember thinking, “God, what a
crazy thing I just did.” But he wrote about it. It became the story for the piece, and it
helped define who we were. Now, we were already very supportive of local farmers’
Q: Tell me how you were trying to define yourself.
Barber: I don’t know that we were—
Q: Or if you thought of it that way.
Barber: We opened Blue Hill as a sort of celebration of everything Hudson Valleyrelated, and Blue Hill Farm in the Berkshires, my grandmother’s farm, we were
cultivating a small, small plot there and trying to harvest the vegetables there, and some
farmers who were neighbors were sending things down on the bus, on the express bus
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from Great Barrington to New York, and we went to Port Authority to pick it up. So we
were doing all sorts of things that, like, in small ways, that were the theme of this place,
which was a regional supply of food, which not a lot of people were doing that, and I was
excited by it and interested in it.
So when Jonathan Gold wrote that, it wasn’t like he was writing about a different
restaurant. It was right. But it also defined us in a way, I think, much more than I ever
imagined, and that was almost by mistake, I think, but a happy mistake.
Q: The opening date was?
Barber: I don’t know. April of 2000.
Q: Was there anybody around that was trying to work with—
Barber: Sure, sure. I mean, sure. Peter Hoffman at Savoy is a big one that comes to
mind. There were others, many others that were. Bill Telepan was doing stuff. These
are the guys who I was inspired by, so I wasn’t a trailblazer here by any respect, although
I had this interest and knowledge of farming and agriculture and the issues attached to it
in a way that Peter did, and not even near as much as Peter did.
But I was really interested in pursuing that because I had the farm at Blue Hill,
and so that’s what I did. It wasn’t out of any kind of political statement or out of any
statement of a way to attract more diners. It was more just like something that interested
me, and, again, like the whole cooking thing, the whole being a chef thing wasn’t the
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burning issue with me. It was, I want to say, larger than that. It doesn’t need to be larger
than that. It was just different.
I think today and I think for the future, it’s going to define what it means to be a
chef, which is to say, like, knowing ingredients and ecologies as well as you know your
kitchen and know how to cut an onion. I mean, I think it’s going to be much more a part
of what it means to be a successful chef in the future. Back then, I don’t know that I
thought that. I just was excited to engage in it.
Q: Play out what that means a little bit, about knowing your ingredients in terms of how
they’re grown and cared for.
Barber: Well, there’s a conception, a conceit, a conception that the chef’s job begins
when the produce comes into the kitchen. To the extent that you’re picking your produce,
of course, you’re involved. And then the farmer’s job ends when you drop off your
produce. But I think what we’re seeing more and more is both a collaboration with chefs
and farmers and also an understanding that there’s a real need and importance to having a
chef become involved all the way back to the seed that’s being chosen for a type of soil
that it’s grown in and how it’s grown and when is it picked. Those are issues that have
been largely determined by other people, and when they’re done with the right kind of
farmers, of course, the result is sort of magical. But that’s just it, it’s magical.
Not to put more pressure on chefs, because we already have enough pressure, but
there is, I think, something very gratifying and very increasingly important for the future
of how we eat, to have chefs who curate for great flavor, because when you curate for
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great flavor, you are sort of axiomatically making decisions about the way the world is
used, about the way the soil is amended, about the kind of seed that’s picked, about the
kind of system of agriculture that’s feeding you. And that’s the blessing of being a chef
and then plus being an eater who cares about food, is that when you choose to eat well—
and I don’t mean foie gras and caviar, of course. I mean when you choose to eat
something that has great flavor, you have attached to it a series of decisions that go far
back, long before the food comes into your kitchen, and those decisions dramatically
affect the way the world is used, and so your power is intense.
Q: Let’s go back a little bit to what the situation was at the farm when you opened. Who
owned it that at that point? How much of it was being worked?
Barber: See, that’s the thing. When my grandmother died, actually, the farming family
that was taking care of the land broke up. They got out of farming. So it just sort of
coincided right when my grandmother died. So the land, there was nothing going on.
We grazed some cattle and we cut some hay, but it was basically an empty ship here until
we broke ground. We basically had a garden that we were expanding it to have the cooks
be involved in planting seeds and in harvesting and then also in cultivating some of the
neighbors who were really interested in growing for the restaurant, which we did actually
quite successfully two seasons.
So it wasn’t until four or five years ago that my brother and I got together about
really reinvigorating the farm. I knew a farmer in the area who was looking for
property—his name’s Sean Stanton—and we did the same deal we have [unclear], is you
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come onto our land for free, and the profits that you realize are yours, but you farm the
land and improve the ecology of the place and the beauty of the place through dairy
farming, which is what he’s doing.
Q: Were there animals there when you started the restaurant?
Barber: No. No, there were no animals. We didn’t get any of our animals from there.
Because of my catering business, I was very close with a lot of farmers who were
growing animals, that raised them for the restaurant, and so we, from the beginning, were
mostly getting in whole animals, although I think that was different from a lot of
Q: Whole animals here?
Barber: Yes, yes, which is very hard to do here. I mean, people don’t really understand
that when restaurants order component parts of the animal, the parts that they’re going to
need for their menu. So we started buying whole pigs. We even got whole veal calves. I
mean, that was very hard. We had very small refrigerators, a very hard undertaking, but,
again, more interesting, and it gave an outlet to farmers that otherwise didn’t have an
Q: Who were your cooks initially? How did you hire them?
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Barber: Well, I had four guys who were with me from my La Cigale days in the East
Village there, and they ended up coming over with me, and one of them became my
pastry chef, the other became a kind of sous chef, and another one became a line cook,
two line cooks, so I had this sort of core group of people who had worked with me, and
that’s what started it. They’re mostly still with me today. One of them is one of the sous
chefs up at Stone Barns, he’s been with me for eleven years. No. Oh, my god, it was
1998, so it’s been thirteen years. That’s at Stone Barns. Then here in New York, our
pastry chef, Joel de la Cruz, has been with me for fourteen years. He came speaking no
English, and he was a porter at the other restaurant, and he trained to become a pastry
chef, and now he’s a phenomenally gifted pastry chef, phenomenally gifted and talented.
So, yes, I’ve been very lucky with a great loyalty and a sense that they belong to
something that’s very exciting. So that’s nice.
Q: How did it go over with them, the idea that they would go to the farm and participate
in doing whatever they were doing to the crops?
Barber: Well, we ended up organizing that like half a dozen times over the course of two
years, maybe more. We were closed back then for a day a week and so I would go up. It
was hard to do, but it was a short growing season and it was exciting. I don’t want to
make too much of it. I mean, it was more about the connection to a place than it was to
actually harvest from. I was interested in turning the farm eventually into something that
was much more productive. This was before Stone Barns.
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In fact, we realized that. We ended up doing dairy on the place, and so we did it,
and dairy supplies the restaurant. So in that sense, we really did do it, and this helped do
it, because that’s what gave us the economic wherewithal to invest in the dairy operation,
in part. So that’s a good point to reckon, and I hadn’t thought of it. We sort of saw the
dream come true.
Then when Mr. Rockefeller came in to eat, which is very soon after we opened,
he immediately was sort of interested in us. He wanted a restaurant, and he was
interested in us and my brother and I and my sister-in-law, who was the designer. So it
was less than two years when we were open, much less than two years, maybe a year and
a half when we were open, and all of a sudden we started working towards and thinking
about Stone Barns.
Q: Toward opening a restaurant at Stone Barns?
Barber: Yes, yes. So it was very quick, and all of a sudden things shifted from Blue Hill
Farm to Stone Barns and cultivating that and how do we put that together and all that.
Q: It’s really a lot for a relatively young man to balance. How did you do that?
Barber: Well, not great. I mean, over these last fifteen years it’s been very hard to have
any kind of, like, life that feels rewarding. Although I have a fantastic wife now, so I’ve
been very lucky in meeting her. But before that, I’ve lost touch with most of my friends.
Most of them have families, and it’s been very difficult to—like I said the other day, I
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was talking to a group of students about their choice of careers and just the simple facts,
you give your nights when you’re in the restaurant business, whether you’re a cook or not.
Your nights are gone. People forget that.
Q: Well, your days are pretty busy too.
Barber: And then your days are gone. I mean, that’s true. You don’t exactly relax in the
morning and hang out. The world is working, things are happening, and then your real
day starts in the afternoon, though, of course, you’re in the kitchen early in the morning.
My point is that while the rest of the world starts winding down, you’re really revving up,
and that’s a very hard thing to get adjusted to. I still don’t. I find it so hard and often
very depressing. Now I’ve been doing this twenty years. You lose twenty years of your
evenings, and when you have two restaurants and the restaurants are going seven days a
week—this one is—it’s very hard to carve out a space where you feel relaxed. Even if
you’re not in the physical building, things are going on, phone calls are happening, as
they should, and there’s no break, and it can be very worrisome.
That’s a big tradeoff that I wonder about sometimes. You don’t get those years
back, as you know, as everyone knows. I don’t mean to sound quaint about it or
melancholy about it. It’s just a fact that once you do anything, you give up a lot, so I
don’t know. I just think there’s something particularly painful about the restaurant
industry in that respect, very hard to have a family life, very hard to have a decent kind of
social existence, because the world works.
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Q: Is your wife in the business?
Barber: No. She’s a writer. She’s also a very hard worker. I mean, anything you do,
you work hard. I don’t mean to suggest that chefs work harder, although, actually, I kind
of think they do work harder than most people.
Q: Well, it’s physically incredibly demanding.
Barber: It’s physically—and the time element, so, yes. It’s on my mind just because I
was talking to these students and everyone wanted to get into the cooking and restaurant
industry. You forget and you can think sort of abstractly about working at night, but
when you actually end up doing it, it becomes something altogether different.
Q: When you set this one up, did you need financial backers?
Barber: We had a few people who invested quietly, but it was a very inexpensive
opening for that reason. We’ve paid back and now we’re on our own. Really, our staff,
our management staff is really the owners of the restaurant in many respects. They have
a profit-sharing. I mean, it’s small. It’s small.
Q: After how long do they get to participate in it?
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Barber: We just have a core group that have been here. Franco Serafin is the general
manager here in New York. He’s been here since the opening. The two other managers
have been here for a long time now. Our chef’s been with me for eight years, sous chef
for five years, some of the other employees for a long time, so they all have points that
my brother set up for our profit-incentive program. Same at Stone Barns. Everyone feels
invested in the future. And I think that’s been key, because the hours are what they are
here, very long and can be quite grueling, and so it’s nice to think that there’s something
larger than just serving food.
Q: While I was waiting for you, a reservation came in. I think the conversation was
somebody asked for an eleven o’clock reservation, and the response was, “Ten-thirty is
our latest.” I’m thinking, ten-thirty! How many hours after that—
Barber: Surprised they said ten-thirty, because we are open till eleven. I don’t know why
someone said that.
Q: Well, but to come in at eleven and start a meal.
Barber: Yes. On Friday, Saturday, people are sitting down at eleven o’clock, a little bit
before eleven, but at eleven o’clock, and the cooks are here till one-thirty, two in the
morning. So, yes. And then you close the restaurant and you’re out by two-thirty or
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Q: That takes a lot of devotion to the restaurant.
Barber: Yes, yes, which is why so few restaurants end up making it in the end, because
of just that kind of thing. [laughs] It’s hard.
Q: How long did you keep this catering business going at the same time?
Barber: Only about eight months or a year, in part because we were so successful. I
wasn’t planning for the kind of response that we had, so we literally didn’t have the space.
And plus, my interest in catering, I went in another direction. It felt like, why are you
essentially picking up a restaurant and carrying it someplace else? Why wouldn’t you
just bring people here? And the variables, you talk about the variables in a restaurant.
The variables in a catering business, it was horrific, very hard. The money was great and
important in the beginning, but if we were going to do Stone Barns, it just made no sense
to keep all this going, and so we got out of it very quickly.
Q: How long did you personally plan the menus here?
Barber: In terms of what?
Q: Literally the menu items every day.
Barber: Every day.
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Q: For forever?
Barber: Ever. Yes, I’m still involved in it every day.
Q: What about Stone Barns?
Barber: Every day.
Q: How do you do that?
Barber: Well, the chef here, Trevor Kunk, has been with me, like I said, for eight years,
and so a lot of the dishes we have a basic understanding about. We’re changing a lot of
dishes, too, so we talk a ton. But we’re utilizing stuff from the past and mixing it with
newer ideas and stuff that we are excited about and new products, and there’s a kind of
language that we speak that’s quite fluent. So does he end up putting everything together?
Yes, but I’m involved with the conception of it and often the follow-through when I’m
here. And then up there, I’m much more involved in the menu, because it changes a lot
more often, and I’m there a lot more now at Stone Barns.
Q: It changes more often because?
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Barber: Because we have no menus there. So you come and you sit at Stone Barns, and
you get presented a list of ingredients, essentially, and we cook a meal for you. So the
things that come from the farm are small allotments, and we tend to spread them and
change them quite a bit.
Q: How does that work in the kitchen with the line cooks and the—
Barber: It’s quite exhausting, because you’re always changing. Even mid service,
changing things is hard to have them—
Q: Even mid –service. Wow. Do you have, like, a daily meeting where you discuss
what the dishes will be?
Barber: We have, like, two or three meetings during the day with the cooks up there. We
have a meeting at the beginning of the day, sometimes during the middle of the day, at
the end of the day to talk about the next day. It’s a very dynamic process, but adds to the
frenetic exhaustion in a way that here—though here is a different exhaustion, it’s just a
little bit more consistent, and up there it feels very hard, and it’s also very busy.
Q: You were talking a little bit about curating the food. Could you play that out a little
bit? Because it’s a word that’s used now, but I think a lot of people don’t really know for
sure what it means.
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Barber: Hmm. Well, I haven’t actually seen it used before, but I’m glad to hear that
chefs are getting credit for it, because I guess the point of my comment about curating
food is that we are easily and convincingly told what is good food, what is good for you,
what is delicious, what is real, what is true, and those are usually literal advertising
campaigns to promote a particular processed food or a particular product that both is not
real, real in terms of the food story, the narrative that comes out of it, and also is truly not
When I say delicious, to a certain extent that’s a personal measure. What’s
delicious to you might not be delicious to me. On the other hand, it’s really not. There is
a true definition of great flavor, and, of course, it varies greatly, depending on the type of
food we’re talking about, on the particular type of species of animal, and it can get very
specific, but there’s a level of true primal taste that is important and not just philosophical
in this whole issue of this movement, because I believe that true flavor is a bellwether for
the type of ecology that food is coming from, because I’ve yet to taste a food that is
delicious that has bad ecological decisions attached to it.
So, by definition, if a carrot tastes delicious, it has to be a carrot that was grown in
the right way, had the right kind of soil, and, as I said, is picked in the right time. A lot of
decisions there that there’s a kind of recipe for that in the field that is as important, if not
more important, than the recipe that I’m writing in the kitchen. And to be able to identify
those flavors and tastes and promote their cultivation is important.
Q: How do you play a role in that?
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Barber: We are in a world where we’re not all growing our food and we don’t have
neighbors who are buying our food. We are in a world that for the foreseeable future is
not going to be connected to an agriculture ecosystem or to any kind of cultivated land.
More and more of our population is urban than it is rural, of course. So I don’t know that
it’s realistic to be thinking that everyone’s going to be growing their own food. I doubt it
is. But what is realistic is that as eaters, you have this responsibility, I think, to seek out
responsibility of this pleasure potential, to seek out the best-flavored food. And when
you do, you are making decisions about the way the world is used, and that has dramatic
effects on farming and on environment and on communities and on distribution systems,
on the whole lot.
My point is that you don’t have to be an environmentalist, you don’t have to be a
nutritionist, you don’t have to be anything other than somebody who just seeks good
tastes. But if you, yourself, have been so far removed from the true taste of chicken, let’s
say, well, then, Kentucky Fried Chicken might very well be a fine and delicious
substitute. And for the money, in some ways it sort of is. But I think we all would worry
about a world where the definition of delicious chicken is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now,
that’s an extreme example, but not by much, not by much.
Q: Well, Kentucky Fried Chicken, you taste the fat and you taste the spicing and
whatever coating there is, but you don’t really much taste the chicken.
Barber: Right, right, right. And I think you need, again, the arbiter of taste or the
curating of taste to say—in that case, it’s not a lot of curating, but you need chefs to point
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the way towards these true flavors, because when you come to any restaurant that is
doing that well. Let’s say you taste a carrot that’s delicious or a roast chicken that’s
delicious, you leave that restaurant wanting to repeat that experience. And if you leave
wanting to repeat that experience, you’re going to spend your food dollars in a certain
way to support that experience.
Q: This is Judith Weinraub. This is a continuation of my second interview with Dan
Barber, who has just retrieved a menu from the dining room so that we can talk specifics
Barber: I don’t have the farmer’s piece for today, which is the tasting menu, but I have
the appetizers and the entrees, which are today’s.
Okay, so what should we talk about? Grilled Stone Barns parsnips. Now, those
are parsnips that were planted—see, it shouldn’t say that, which is why I didn’t okay this
menu. We’re going to reprint this. What time is it now? See, like the parsnips were dug
by the cooks this week in the frozen ground. We’re in the middle of February. Well, it
was late February when we drilled into the ground at Stone Barns and picked out the
parsnips, the freezing rock-hard parsnips. They defrosted and are so sweet, filled with
sugar, and it’s one of the great pleasures of this time of year, because we have so few
local fruits and vegetables, almost none, that I’m glad this is advertised. But it’s got to
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say something about the digging and the thing. I don’t know. Anyway, we’ll figure that
Q: How will it be served?
Barber: Well, see, we make our own charcoal at Stone Barns, and we grill. We have a
grill on the roof here. So we put the parsnips in the charcoal, in the homemade charcoal,
and we’re going to grill it for something like two hours. We char the skin, and it looks
like a black piece of charcoal, and then we slice it. It’s delicious.
Q: This is an appetizer?
Barber: That’s an appetizer.
Q: And among the other appetizers are what sorts of things?
Barber: What sorts of things. Well, there’s a duck egg from the Hudson Valley, and
we’re serving that with bacon from our farm. Then shelling beans from the fall.
Q: So, very little is done to these products as you’re describing them.
Barber: Actually, a lot is done to them, to be honest with you. [laughs] Although it
looks very simple. But the shelling beans are eight different types of beans, and they’re
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all from Stone Barns or other farms, that we freeze during the winter and then cook and
braise during the day, and then mix them together with a puree of vegetables actually to
thicken them. Stone Barn bacon is home-cured belly that we then smoke, again up on the
rooftop there.
There’s a winter fruit and vegetable salad. Those are winter vegetables and fruits,
cold salad. They’re Maine sea scallops from divers in Maine, that come to us from a
great source near Blue Hill, Maine.
Q: A great source meaning someone whom you know takes care of the—
Barber: Well, it’s someone who I know has real divers diving for them, and so they’re
not coated in a salt solution to preserve them. They’re literally taken from the water and
sent to us right away.
Stone Barns panther soybeans with the scallops. That’s a great soybean that
Stone Barns grows that is really coveted for its sweet depth of flavor, served with yellow
beets and pine nuts. We have gnocchi on the menu, ricotta gnocchi. That’s homemade
ricotta. Jerusalem artichokes also from the fall harvest, with chestnuts.
Q: And all of these from Stone Barns rather than from the local markets?
Barber: Well, the Jerusalem artichokes are from Stone Barns and from the local markets
as well, yes. Both. They’re sort of mixed.
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Stone Barns greenhouse greens. That’s all the greens from the greenhouse, where
we have half-an-acre greenhouse up there. It’s just starting to bomb with greens, because
the daylight is getting so much longer.
We’re doing a pasta tonight with mushrooms and spinach. See, I’ve got to watch
this. It says local mushrooms, but they’re not all local. I’ve got to worry about that.
Some of them are. It’s very hard to get local mushrooms right now.
Okay, good. I’m glad we’re going over this. Is there any other problems? Yes.
Boy, we’re getting to be an expensive restaurant.
Okay. Wild striped bass, pickled ginger, celery root, and bok choy.
Q: So where does the wild striped bass come from?
Barber: Right now it’s running in Long Island. The pickled ginger is from Stone Barns.
We grew some ginger in the greenhouse. Celery root is from Warwick, New York, and
bok choy is from our greenhouse. Wow. A nice local dish in the middle of the winter.
You know, I’m speaking to you on the worst possible time—
Q: The most difficult.
Barber: Yes, because all the storage now is running out, and all the new stuff isn’t here
yet, so March and April are the cruelest months by far. When we get to May, we’re in a
little bit better shape. It’s really not until June when we start kicking on stuff.
Barber - 2 - 24
There’s gray mullet on the menu from southern Spain, Veta la Palma, a great farm
in the south of Spain.
Q: Is that flown to you by a distributor?
Barber: Yes.
Q: But you know the farm?
Barber: Yes, I’ve visited the farm many times. It’s an amazing operation.
Halloran Farm venison. That’s a guy who grows venison for both restaurants,
raises deer for us and only for us. Homemade sauerkraut with that. That’s sauerkraut
from cabbages from Stone Barns that we brine.
Hudson Valley chicken, black-dirt carrots. Yes, that’s carrots from Warwick,
New York, with mushrooms. And then we have a pig from Stone Barns with braised red
cabbage and beets from Stone Barns, and a cauliflower steak. We serve a vegetarian
entrée, cauliflower like a steak, with dried fruit and arugula and pine nuts.
Q: The animals that you raise now on the Stone Barns property are what?
Barber: Right now raised is pigs; chickens; laying hens for eggs; and also roasting
chickens, although those don’t start up again until June; turkeys; geese; honeybees; sheep;
lambs. And I think that’s it.
Barber - 2 - 25
Q: Who is responsible for monitoring the animals?
Barber: Craig Haney is the livestock manager.
Q: Could you describe the principles, what the livestock eat, how they live, that kind of
Barber: Yes, sure. The livestock operation at Stone Barns is pasture-based, which means
that the animals are primarily fed a grass-based diet. Craig Haney is a very bright and
energetic farmer, looking to take advantage of the great pasture grassland of Stone Barns
and moving the animals in an intense rotation around the grass, to improve both the
flavor of the animal and the ecology of the farm, which is to say caring that the grass is
not eaten, is avoiding too much pressure on re-growth of grass, so that the grass can grow
with all its nutrients and with all its nutrient density, without being overgrazed. The pigs
are off in the forest, grazing on the forest floor, being fed a mixture of organic grains
from a local farmer in upstate New York.
Generally, the practice is to limit the amount of outside inputs that come into the
farm, and that includes animal feed. So to the extent possible, we use the resources that
are on the farm, and to a large extent, that’s forty or fifty acres of woodland, so that’s
woodland taking advantage of the wood pasture, which the breed of pig we have is
particularly suited towards Berkshire pigs. Then the other part is to improve the offerings
of nature through good pasture management.
Barber - 2 - 26
Q: What about slaughtering?
Barber: Well, we have a slaughterhouse on Stone Barns that slaughters smaller animals.
The pigs and the sheep have to go off to a slaughterhouse to be USDA inspected, and so
there’s only a certain amount of those.
Q: All of this must take an enormous amount of organization and back and forth with the
two restaurants.
Barber: Yes.
Q: Who runs that?
Barber: Well, it’s broken up to different people. There’s somebody who sort of is the
forager for the restaurants and besides stuff that we’re getting, stuff from other farms.
There’s somebody who helps me with deliveries here. I mean, everything from up there
comes here, and the compost from here goes back up there. So we have a system that
sort of works out, but it’s a lot of people.
Q: You make compost here.
Barber - 2 - 27
Barber: Well, our trash goes towards feeding the animals up there. Yes, we try and think
of it holistically here, to the extent that we can.
So, yes, running a restaurant is difficult. Running a restaurant of the kind that
we’re talking about here adds complexity to the system, to the systematic running of it,
but it’s also part of the system, so it’s hard to separate it. The Stone Barns is made up of
a farm, an education center, and also a restaurant, and that means the restaurant isn’t just
involved in feeding people. It’s also involved in, as Carlo Petrini likes to say, coproducing, which means more involved in the production.
Q: Actually, one of the things I wanted to ask you was, when did Stone Barns become
The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture?
Barber: At the same time it opened in 2004.
Q: And what does that mean, The Center for Food and Agriculture?
Barber: The Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a nonprofit educational
entity to teach about sustainable agriculture. So it teaches public school children about
agriculture and about cooking, and adults and community members about the kind of
work we’re doing. It’s a nonprofit.
Q: All this to me seems like an enormously big bite, two restaurants.
Barber - 2 - 28
Barber: Three. Well, we have the café, too, up there, which we haven’t talked about.
Q: I’ve been there, yes. How long did that take to set in once you opened—
Barber: The Rockefeller family had been talking about doing something at Stone Barns
from the early nineties, mid nineties, and it opened in 2004, and we had been involved
since about 2001 or ‘02. Actually, it was 2001. I said it was not even two years when we
were open; it was not even a year really when we were open, when we first started talking
about it. So, yes, we were planning this in 2001, so it took a long time to get it going. Of
course, Mr. Rockefeller paid for the undertaking and so that made it a lot easier, but it got
us off the ground about three and a half years from the time we were really focused on
opening it to the day it opened.
Q: How educated about all these things was he?
Barber: His initial interest, Mr. Rockefeller, was to have a restaurant next to his property
up there in Pocantico Hills, and I think his investment was out of the memory of his wife,
who just loved the land and loved—she had a cattle operation up there going when she
was alive, and she wanted it continued. So the idea that it would expand to help feed the
restaurant he was really excited about and interested in. So did he have direct planning in
the farming end of things? Not exactly, but his blessing was always there, and I think he
saw the potential for the restaurant being more than just a restaurant. Of course he did.
Barber - 2 - 29
He put his money behind it. Whereas initially, the thought was like, do a restaurant that
would help preserve eighty acres that was zoned for fifty-two housing lots.
Q: You mean that he could have gone in that direction?
Barber: Yes, yes, yes.
Q: But it gave you the opportunity to go in a direction that you really never would have
had the money to set up.
Barber: That’s right. I mean, we would have done it, I think, at Blue Hill Farm, and it
would have looked a lot different, and it may not have ever happened, and it would have
been on a scale and a scope that was very small and inconsequential, potentially. I don’t
know how consequential Stone Barns is. I mean, it came at the right time, for sure, and
many people say it led this wave. I don’t know that it led the wave. I think we rode a
wave, in part, and with Mr. Rockefeller’s money and support, it was quite an easy wave
to ride, in that sense. Opening it was not easy, but we’ve had a lot of the luxuries, and I
think timing has been one of them, that this whole movement has just exploded in a way
that no one could have predicted, and it’s very fortuitous, I think, for the future of the
movement. To have a place like Stone Barns that’s walking the talk of all of this is quite
important and I think increasingly will become more important.
Q: Well, if you want to talk about the movement next time—
Barber - 2 - 30
Barber: Do you mind? Because I think we have more to go, if you don’t mind.
Q: We have definitely more to go.
[End of interview]