Dan Barber

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A number of years ago I invited a bunch of  top chefs up to my place in Fourchu, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia (and what chefs…Dan Barber, Jonathan Waxman, Cesare Casella, Candy Argondizza, David Pasternak, Nils Noren, Floyd Cardoz and Anne Burrell). Fourchu is my family’s home village and I wanted the chefs to go gaga over the local lobster.  Our village is way out on the southeastern tip of the island…maybe 750 miles from the east coast shoreline.  The lobsters are muscularly and mineral  flavored, ocean tasting, and sublime.  The chef trip was famously written up in a fine Departures article by Peter Kaminsky. The chefs were impressed with the lobster but it was a midnight run to a returning crab boat with fisherman Gordon MacDonald that really had them fired up.

Snow crab from the northeast is an exquisite delicacy that few people get to taste fresh. The snow crab is harvested far out in the ocean with overnight trips are the norm and come from the depths of pristine water. The problem is getting the crabs back before they turn black from the bends from being caught at the deep bottom of the ocean. Triage is usually done by immediately freezing the crab on its arrival on shore. Frozen crab is very delicious but nothing can beat fresh.


Cape Breton has breathtaking scenery and world class fishing. If you live in a lobster or crab village like  Fourchu as I do in the summers, you can meet the crab boat and have the sea water boiling back home. Meeting the boat is as much a social event as shopper’s delight. One buys the crab for $2 a pound at the dock and catches up on gossip and then quickly gets on with the ritual. That means 1) chipping the head off  the crab 2) pulling the hard center shell off 3) breaking it into two halves 4) cleaning out all the yellow gunk. 5) running home and putting it into the boiling water or the freezer for after the season closes.

No butter, no sauce just explosive crab taste. Sensational!  Try it frozen if you find it in your local fish shops or take a trip up to Cape Breton.  Both are absolutely worth the effort.

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Dumpster Dive Salad

He’s done it again. Dan Barber never ceases to thrill, challenge and inspire me as a diner. This time he really topped himself. As you may know, Dan is one of the most responsibly sustainable chefs in the world. He is always questioning how we can be more responsible stewards of the earth. This new iteration has a simple formula: Make a meal out of scraps. And so he did.

Coppa

Broken Razor Clams and pig's ear vinaigrette

Now, some were his scraps, but most were purchased from the food vendors that Dan works with for his normal menus. He did not want free scraps but wanted to teach the vendors that scraps have value. He has pushed the needle so far again.

Veggie Pulp Burger, Spent Grains Bread

Skate Wings, Monkfsh Wings

Beef Tallow Candle

Leftover Brown Rice and Broccoli

Discarded Greens with Aged Beef Rib Broth

Cocoa Husk Sorbet, Chocolate with Almond Pulp

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Firstly, let me apologize for such a lull in blog posts. As President of the Friends of USA Pavilion at EXPO Milano 2015, I have had my hands full. The Pavilion is so exciting that I just have share the developments. For those of you who might not be familiar with EXPO Milano 2015, there will be a World’s Fair (EXPO) in Milan from May 2015 through October 31 2015. Six months of wonder.

USA Pavilion rendering James Biber Architects

The theme is “Feeding the Planet; Energy for Life.” Over 140 countries will participate. We have all been challenged with the daunting task of how we will responsibly feed the planet when our population explodes to 9 billion people. If we continue to produce, consume and waste food at our present rate, we will not only not have enough food but won’t have enough energy to produce the food. Climate change and dwindling natural resources like fresh water also will add to the dilemma. Each participating country will take a stab at demonstrating how to meet and solve these challenges.

The USA Pavilion theme, American Food 2.0 will highlight some of our greatest thinkers on the subject. ICC’s grad Dan Barber will speak to his Third Plate, and Dean Cesare Casella will be cooking at the JBF House Milano. Architect Jim Biber of Biber Architects has designed  a beautiful and transformative building: it is a true vertical farm. Thinc, the exhibits firm that designed and programmed the 9/11 Museum, will be designing our exhibits.

Harvesting the vertical farm, rendering James Biber Architects

The USA Pavilion will be three floors. The roof will serve as a bar/garden and communal meeting place. The middle floor is a boardwalk, boardwalks have historically been an avenues of food and community, and fun too! We were able to purchase the actual Coney Island boardwalk after Hurricane Sandy. That floor will have exciting stations speaking to the pressing issues, highlighting various points of view on how to solve them and introduce American personalities and institutions that will play key roles in solving the problems. The ground floor will be a visual delight of the great American foodscape from barbecue to immigrant food to Thanksgiving dinner.

Whew! If you are at all interested in food and the future, you must plan on visiting. This World’s Fair will be a benchmark in the history of EXPOs and will rival the best. We at ICC are proud and honored to be a part of it. Please visit USA Pavilion:American Food 2.0 website for information, social media and updates.

Roof Deck rendering James Biber Architects

A warm human touch will be the 120 student ambassadors who will serve as guides and docents. They will be bi-lingual and speak a polyglot of languages. These students are being recruited from colleges all over the country and trained by the University of Southern California.

We will also have a space across from our Pavilion that will contain food trucks. We will be showcasing American food in its diversity and deliciousness. Everything from lobster rolls to fried clams. Hamburgers to tacos. We want to bring the great bounty of American regionalism to our Pavilion and introduce the 25-30 million EXPO visitors to the real deliciousness of American cuisine.

Outside the walls of the Pavilion and the EXPO itself, we will infuse a bit of the States in the city of Milan itself. The Mayor of Milan, Guiliano Pisapia  graciously visited the ICC and is excited to welcome us to his city to showcase our top chefs and to liven the piazzas around the city with American outdoor eating events. Tailgating anyone? Also in the city we will hold TED-like talks (Beard Chats) and panel discussions to hear from a myriad of experts on the various ways we can overcome the big issues. Last but not least, we will run a James Beard House in central Milan and showcase the best and brightest chefs from the USA.

Scenes from December Milan and site visit, with Amb Reeker and, at the site with Mitchell Davis

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Dan Barber of Blue Hill NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barns for my radio show, Chef’s Story. It wasn’t the usual interview where I ask all about his childhood, background, influences etc. I dove right into thorny topics with him. Dan as you might know has written a seminal book, The Third Plate. It is unapologetic. It cautions, enlightens and instructs us on the dynamic and evolutionary trajectory our food system is on. It is as frightening and exciting as a Transformer movie.

Dan Barber, The Third Plate, photo of Dan: Mark Ostow, photos courtesy of Blue Hill at Stone Barns

One aspect of our talk really struck me and I want to share it with you. Vegetables are not benign to the earth. They need a lot of water, fertilizing and human labor. They take a lot of land. Dan is not an opponent of vegetables, but he is first and foremost a responsible guardian of the earth. He believes we can all live sustainably, if we live an educated, humbled and moderate life. We should understand not just the nutrients and calories in our food but what I will coin here, its earth factor (EF). What does it take from our earth to produce a tomato, a pound of beef, an acre of GMO corn?

Dan used the term ‘the tomato is the hummer of the vegetable/fruit world.’ It uses a massive amount of water: 13 gallons per tomato. So can we be righteous eating a tomato from drought stricken California? Over eating a marbled 16 ounce T- bone steak? Should we avoid both as excessive EF? Interesting.

I do think socially conscious people want to know what they are eating. And they have a right to know. But next to the ingredients and nutrition labeling, don’t we need and want to know the EF factor too? I would.

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Dorothy w/Daniel Humm

Last Monday was a stellar September day. Not only was the sky peacock blue and the air tinged with perfect fall crispness but I was spending the day with many of the top chefs in the world at the idyllic Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills, NY. Joan Roca, Michel Gras, Daniel Humm, Ferran Adria and so many other super stars joined Dan Barber, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Blue Hill NYC to do a deep dive on seeds and genetic engineering. What? Did you say genetic engineering? Are these chefs into GMOs? Actually not.

Stone Barns Center

From top left clockwise: Ferran Adria, Joan Roca, Adam Kaye, Floyd Cardoz

L to R: Michel Gras, Dan Barber, Dorothy, Francois Payard, Daniel Humm

What they heard from world glass genetic breeders and discussed among themselves from 10 am to 7:30 pm is the concept of chefs working with genetic breeders to create exquisite fruits, vegetables and grains. Actually that is something that nature itself has been doing for the past 10,000 years. Think a nectarine, which is a cross between a peach and a plum. How is that different from GMOs? GMOs are genetic transfers between two species that would not cross pollinate in nature. Think fish gene inserted into a tomato.

Ferran Adria

Acorn Squash

So, what did we learn? That genes are place sensitive. Have you ever brought home seeds from a vacation, planted them and found them not to be as delicious as your lingering memory?  There is a reason for that. Great seed growers plant hundreds of seeds and then watch for the one or two plants that are vibrant survivors in their field tests. Your soil may not have the same characteristics as the test fields and hence, the attributes of the seed might not perform as well in your backyard in Brooklyn. You might start thinking about saving the seeds from the best tasting tomato in your veggie garden and become a geneticist yourself. I think a lot of the chefs left thinking they were on to expanding their horizons in that direction.

Menu courtesy of Stone Barns Center

After yesterday it seems so obvious that chefs in their never ending quest for the most delicious meal, will now have to go beyond the farm and into the labs of these seed breeders. It is there that they can select, test, harvest, select, test, harvest, select… and here we thought farm to table would be the ultimate trend. Now we have conception to compost! I never saw so many chefs, so excited. We ate a dinner of the aforementioned conceptions: see Gaston Acurio’s squash, which has just a number not a name. I’d also like to mention that we at The International Culinary Center were so honored that our Farm to Table students were asked to help out in the kitchen with these iconic chefs. A new challenge in the top ranks of the culinary universe!

ICC Students

You heard it here first, look for the names of seed breeders on your next menu!

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I read William Deresiewicz’s New York Times article,  “A Matter of Taste”, which challenged the idea of food as art. It made me take a serious think on the subject. Hang on a bit, this will be a longer post than usual but a subject worth exploring. Here’s what Deresiewicz says on the subject:

Food is highly developed as a system of symbols. Proust on the madeleine is art, the madeleine itself is not art.

First, let’s define art. In searching on the internet for a usable definition I thought Ellen Dissanyake’s captured it for me: the expression of the thoughts of the artist are successful when it engages both the maker and the viewer and creates dialogues of wonder. Its subjective and stimulating ends seeks to enlighten and entertain.”

Dan Barber, photo by Susie Cushner

Let’s take a modern day “madeleine” and deconstruct it as art for Mr. Deresiewicz. It’s the lowly parsnip, in the hands of a culinary master and chef, Dan Barber. Dan is the Chef/Owner/Creator of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, New York. A restaurant that creates a dialogue with the land and a chef that speaks to the seasons.

A parsnip is one of those vegetables that is relegated to the root cellar, a cousin to the turnip and a brethren in the circle of least likely to please winter veggies such as brussel sprouts and cauliflower. So what has Dan done with the parsnip? He’s put it center plate! But not just on a one-dimensional plane in a new recipe. Dan creates dishes that are complex and intensely involved with listening to the land while delivering taste on a celestial level. The parsnip in his hands engages us in a new way and stimulates us to think about the relationship between man, food and our physical surroundings. Its more intense depth of flavor, sweetness and deliciousness surprises us. And the beauty of its presentation not only pleases but shocks us. The story behind it makes us challenge our long held opinions. How did he do this with a parsnip?

Dan started by thinking about what he could serve his customers in February in the deep of winter. He is committed to being local and seasonal. He worked with his farmer, Jack Algiere to continue growing parsnips in the snow filled months. They harvest huge parsnips from the frozen ground and crack away the dirt. These parsnips are supersweet because the freezing temperatures concentrate the sugars, unlike fall harvested vegetables. Their post autumn size allows the parsnip to be reimagined. Dan roasts these parsnips whole. Then the presentation of this root vegetable main course is done with a bit of fanfare. The diner’s attention is riveted as the once lowly parsnip is paraded tableside and sliced as a steak, ready to be a hearty meal in the cold of winter. The parsnip is the center of the plate, the star of the meal. The concept of protein as main course is moot…not even missed.

Parsnip Steak and Beet Ketchup, photo courtesy of Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Does this not engage the diner in a new way? Does it not make her question the human/land connection? Does it not entertain in its deliciousness? Does it not give us a sense of wonder of how large our universe is and how limited we have been in harvesting our foods? Does it not change your relationship with the parsnip? Now a vegetable of preference but only in this new season, this new context. If the parsnip did not have a pleasure with it, an entertainment factor, the concept and recipe could be restricted to science and social issues….but precisely because it pleases in a sensual way, it qualifies on all counts….as a piece of art!

Dan’s work is important. So important that we are working with him on our new Farm to Table culinary program. It is important for our school to graduate not only the best chefs in the country. We also strive to be a breeding ground for culinary artists. Those chefs that engage both the maker and the diner and create dialogues of wonder.”

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