Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Chef Dan Barber
#11 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2017
Visited: July 9th, 2017 – Lunch Service
To respect food, one has to revere the soil, the seeds, the rotation of crops, the season, the animals that thrive on the land, and especially sustainable practices. This is the ultimate holistic approach to food that Blue Hill at Stone Barns flawlessly preaches and delivers with the food that they serve in the restaurant.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a restaurant about 30 miles north of Manhattan, tucked within the lush greeneries of Pocantico Hills, New York. Attached to the restaurant is a working farm called Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, where they focus on growing seasonal crops that are appropriate for the region. Here, they value sustainability through composting and rotation of crops and animals to naturally enrich and fertilise the soil.
The Farm Tour
A few weeks before our experience, Philippe Gouze, the Director of Operations of Blue Hill at Stone Barns contacted me to see if I would be interested in a tour of the farm. I, of course, excitedly and politely accepted the generous offer.
Upon arriving to the restaurant, we were welcomed by Andrew, the Market Forager at Blue Hill who accompanied us for a personal tour of the farm. Andrew took us to the different areas of the farm where they gro. To make this tour even more enjoyable, we rode an adorable yet speedy tractor, our chariot that took us all over the farm.
Snacks from the Farm
Our experience at the restaurant began with snacks that showcased the simple beauty and purity of the vegetables. All of these snacks were unadulterated vegetables, enabling your tastebuds to center on the natural flavours. I realised that I never had truly tasted vegetables until eating here.
Chef Sarah is probably one of the most passionate Chefs that I have ever encountered. What fuels her passion to make the best bread at Blue Hill is Chef Dan Barber himself, who lets her creative side shine through. In this bread, Chef Sarah collected rainwater and used it to bake this gorgeous and rustic bread that was slightly sweet and nutty.
Foraging for Mushrooms
Utensils are brought to our table, marking the end of all the finger foods.
Presentation of the Farm’s Bounty of Summer Cucumbers and their Blossoms
The next series is a pure celebration of the diversity of cucumbers that they grow in the farm. Working with Michael Mazourek and other renowned seed breeders, they grow different varieties of shapes, sizes and flavours of cucumbers. We were instructed to dip the cucumbers in the bowl of malted yogurt that was beautifully and generously garnished summer flowers.
Badger Flame Beets
Our host explained to us that if you consume beets in its raw form, it will be bitter and will make your throat scratchy. In partnership with the plant breeders from the University of Wisconsin, they have successfully bred the enzyme that causes bitterness and make your throat scratchy, producing raw beets that are natural sweet and crunchy.
Eight Row Flint Corn
Reading Chef Dan Barber’s Book, “The Third Plate“, I have learned about an ancestral variety of corn, called the Eight Row Flint that dates back to the 1600’s. This variety of corn produces eight hefty rows of kernel, when cobs of today produce about eighteen to twenty. This variety came about from careful selection and early methods of seed breeding done by generation of Native Americans to produce the most flavourful corn.
The story goes that Glenn Roberts, a rare seed collector, sent Chef Dan Barber the Eight Row Flint corn seeds to see if it would spark interest in growing and cultivating this rare breed of corn at Stone Barns. Chef Dan enlisted the help of his good friend and horticulturalist, Jack Algiere who planted and cultivated the Eight Row Flint corn. Jack used a symbiotic method just like the Native Iroquois planted their corn, alongside dry beans and squash. The beans provides the soil with rich nitrogen for the crops to thrive, the corn plant provides a natural trellis for the bean stalks to climb, and the squash inhibited the growth of weeds.
Upon harvest of this corn variety, Chef Dan was inspired to pulverize the kernels and turn it into polenta. He toasted the ground maize and cooked it along water and salt. As Chef Dan stirred the pot, the ingredients molded into one entity producing the aromas of a well-buttered corn. Chef Dan was even more surprised when he finally tasted the polenta made from Eight Row Flint corn as he described it in his book:
“It wasn’t just the best polenta of my life. It was polenta I hadn’t imagined possible, so corny that breathing out after swallowing the fist bite brought another rich shot of corn flavour.”
Last Year’s Potato
The next dish focuses on last year’s harvest of potatoes as Chef Dan promotes a “no waste” concept. They deployed two preservation techniques in this dish, fermentation and dehydration. On the hand held bowl, we have fermented potato purée that was resting on a bed of shellfish stew. Our host then shaved dehydrated potatoes on top. The fermented potato exuded deep potato flavours with nutty notes, and was a perfect complement to the shellfish stew.
Squash That Wants to be a Melon
Here is another variety of squash that Michael Mazourek cultivated for flavour. This Tonda Squash were served raw and exhibited the usual crunchy textures of squash. The taste, however, surprises and envelopes your tastebuds with the sweetest honeydew-like notes. Served with smoked speck from the farm’s pig and molasses made from watermelon.
Squash That Wants to be an Avocado
Living up to it’s name, this variety of squash, called Avocado Squash, has a shape similar to avocados with a flesh that was equally silky and buttery. At Blue Hill, they served the avocado squash as a play to guacamole and chips. The meat of the avocado squash was minced along with cilantro and other seasonings. Served with along with seasoned crispy chicken feet and sourdough levain crisps.
Zucchini Stem Bolognese
Continuing on with more zucchini, but instead of the fruit, we were presented with the stem of the plant. Chef Dan believes that food should not be wasted, and since the stem and stalk makes up the bulk of a squash plant, why not incorporate it in a dish. The stems were cut into bite-sized pieces, resembling a penne pasta, and was coated in a rich ragù of savoury Bolognese. Garnished with zucchini blossoms.
Field Trip to the Bread Room
One of the many things I love about our experience at Blue Hill at Stone Barns is the series of “field trips” where we get to see and eat at different parts of the restaurant. For our first “field trip”, our host brought us into the restaurant’s bread room where we were welcomed with a familiar face, our favourite bread Chef, Sarah!
Chef Sarah walked us through the processes and research that they use at Blue Hill at Stone Barns to produce bread. Chef Sarah told us that at Blue Hill, they mill their own grains and use it the very next day to preserve its freshness. We learned about “Einkorn”, an ancient heirloom variety of wheat. We also learned about “Barber Wheat”, a variety of grain from Chef Dan’s 10-year long project of research and selective breeding. The research that they placed into their wheat was solely to put flavours and nutrients back into the wheat; elements that detrimentally lost through the decades of American agricultural practices. My favourite of the bunch was the 200% Whole Wheat Bread, as the flavours were complex, savoury and slightly sweet.
Field Trip to the Manure Shed
After our educational experience at the bread room, our host led us to our next “field trip”, into the manure shed where the next part of our adventure awaited for us. Thankfully, the room did not wreak of manure, as it was more of a charming barn oasis that used to really be a manure shed back in the day. These days, they use this room as a dining space and also to compost materials in their gigantic composting bin. In the room we found a table setting and two farm fresh eggs, waiting for us.
The Red Pepper Egg
The next dish was fun and interesting way of showcasing that “you are what you truly eat”. In front of us were fresh farm eggs produced by Blue Hill farm chickens that our were fed with high-carotenoid red pepper mixed into their feed. Our host told us that birds are evolved with tastebuds that cannot taste heat of the peppers. With red peppers in their diet, every few dozen eggs possessed a striking yolk with a bright red colour.
Our host then instructed us to play a game of “eggs roulette” by cracking the egg open to see which one of us got the red yolk.
Our host gathered our freshly cracked eggs, took it back to the kitchen for our next surprise.
Walking Around The Restaurant
Butter That Reflects the Cow’s Personalities
Back into the restaurant from our field trip, we were presented with a delicious slice of 100% Barber Wheat sourdough. It was served with “single udder” butters made from two different cows. On the left of the plate was a butter from a cow named “Alice”, on the right was from “Rhonda”. The butter on the left was sweet and creamy, the butter on the right was tangy and sour. Our host informed us that the flavours appropriately reflected the cow’s personalities. I definitely do not want to near sour Rhonda!
Chicken in a Pot
A table-side presentation of cooking the farm’s Freedom Range Chicken in a pot. Before cooking, the chicken, herbs, and aromatics were placed inside the dutch oven. The lid was then shut closed a flour dough that turns into a flaky crust upon cooking, sealing all the natural juices, flavours, and aromas of all the good things inside. After cooking for hours, the pot’s seal was cracked in our table and we were immediately succumb to the fragrant pouf of the intoxicating steam.
The Last Savoury Course
Coffee and Tea Service
The Final Field Trip
For the grand finale, our host guided us outside into their gorgeous patio where the spectacular views of the farm, fields and pastures surrounded us. It was at this table where we splendidly enjoyed the final bites of our phenomenal experience at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
The entire experience at Blue Hill at Stone Barns was the culmination of stories and passion of people like Chef Dan Barber and his team who are deeply committed to change the way we think about food. The experience here is not about eating caviar, or foie gras, or the most expensive cut of tuna, or an imported über marbled beef. Rather, it is about celebrating the utilization of regionally-appropriate crops and animals that are both needed and produced by the environment to thrive.
I don’t even know where to begin or how to express the pure bliss of our phenomenal experience at this restaurant. Starting with the people behind it all – from a fun and educational farm tour with Andrew, to seeing a familiar face at the reception Ana whom we met in San Sebastián, to our fantastic host Daniel who took good care of us, to meeting Sarah who is the most enthusiastic baker ever, and to finally meeting Chef Dan Barber himself. I was astounded when Chef Dan complemented my Blog with the work and dedication that I placed into it.
The entire experience highlighted a very holistic and symbiotic approach to food. It is a place where plants and animals benefit from each other and where every part gets utilized or re-purposed. The vegetables here are utterly fresh with eye-opening flavours as they were harvested straight from the farm. The quality of food here is unsurpassed as Chef Dan has dedicated his culinary life to nurture the farmers, ecosystems, and communities to bring back flavour and nutrition in the food that he serves. The tour of the picturesque working farm, the enthusiasm of the friendly staff, and having a little bit of knowledge from reading Chef Dan’s book, “The Third Plate” (highly recommend to read), all helped me further understand the philosophy of the restaurant.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a restaurant that has become my favourite in the country. The food and the experience was very endearing and soulful. I cannot wait to come back one day, hopefully soon.
Also, Chef Dan Barber signed my copy of his beautiful book, “The Third Plate“.
Blue Hill At Stone Barns