Chef Dan Barber’s Pocantico Hills, New York, icon Blue Hill at Stone Barns was just named the world’s 12th best restaurant, and Chef Barber earned Chefs’ Choice Award. Among the pantheon of America’s great culinary minds, Barber holds a spot at the very top. Barber, whose eatery was one of FSR’s Top 100 Independent Restaurants for 2018, offered some tips how to stay ahead in the farm-to-table rush.
In many ways, Blue Hill jump-started this hyper local movement. What does farm-to-table mean to you today?
I see it as a catalyst for bigger conversations. Now that we’ve sparked a culture that cares more about food—good food, that is—we can dig deeper into these issues and actually change how our food is grown. Farm-to-table was great launch pad but now we have to do the work.
What is the biggest challenge sourcing locally?
Finding local citrus. It’s one thing I’m always envious of when I go to California. We’ve managed to find a few farms that grow it during the summer, but those are few and far between.
What has been your most successful experiment in trying to ferment, can, pickle, or otherwise preserve local goods for off-seasons?
Earlier in the year, we had an abundance of koginut squash in house and needed to find a way to keep them from rotting. Our chef de cuisine, Nick, decided to toast the squash and then ferment them in a salt brine. The result was really exceptional— the fermenting process jacked up the squash flavor but also added this acidity and complexity you can’t get from eating them fresh.
What is the best advice you can offer a chef or restaurateur looking to restructure their sourcing to be more local in focus?
Talk to the farmers and get to know the nuts and bolts of what they’re doing. The best way to support their work is to ask questions. For instance, if you’re buying tomatoes from a farm, ask what other crops they had to plant in order to do so. You might just discover something new (and delicious) in the process.