Dan Barber, founder of Michelin-starred Blue Hill at Stone Barns, is an icon in the world of sustainable cooking. He’s a champion for eating locally-sourced food, reducing waste in the kitchen, and for ethical cooking that doesn’t sacrifice taste. Chef Dan believes people should know where their food comes from and its environmental impact before taking a bite—and his restaurant helps them do just that.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns sits 30 minutes outside Manhattan on a dairy farm that once belonged to the Rockefellers. The rustic farm is a charming getaway from the city, and it gives guests the chance to see exactly how their food is made. From the greenhouse to the compost oven to the bakery, guests get an intimate look at every step of the food preparation process.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns has no menu. The kitchen staff, who often double as servers, are adept at reading their guests. They listen and observe, catering each table’s experience to the guests’ (often unspoken) preferences. Guests can expect to try 20 to 40 bite-sized courses that highlight the native flavors of the Hudson Valley.
A Zero-Waste, Farm-to-Fork Policy
Nearly everything served at Blue Hill at Stone Barns is grown on-site or at a nearby farm. Seafood comes in from fishermen off Long Island. Much of the winter menu is purchased in the late fall and stored, preserved, or fermented. The Stone Barns fields and greenhouses grow over 500 varieties of vegetables, and the 400 acres of farmland are home to cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens.
The staff might tell you the names of the cows who made the butter at your table. The menu changes from day to day, depending on what’s in season or what the kitchen staff found on their latest foraging excursions. In addition to locally-grown spinach, beets, kale, and sweet potatoes, you might also find knotweed or Devil’s Walking Stick on your plate.
Chef Dan does his best to keep waste to a minimum at his restaurant. Guests typically eat off bone ash china, even plates that have cracked or broken. (The 30-course, bite-sized tasting menu doesn’t require much plate space.)
Kitchen scraps become charcoal, compost, or animal feed. A compost bin becomes an oven for sealed vegetables, slowly cooking them with the natural heat of decomposition. Chef Dan and his team are always working to find new uses for every part of the plants and animals they prepare so that absolutely nothing goes to waste.
Some of Chef Dan’s most resourceful creations? Deboned and puffed chicken feet (similar to chicharrones); matcha tea made from cover crops like essex grass and pea shoots; broccoli, sunflower, and kale stalk “marrow;” and hand-foraged mushroom “nuggets” that are prepared and served like chicken.
Sharing the Spotlight
In the summer of 2020, Chef Dan announced he was temporarily stepping down from Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
As the Black Lives Matter movement brought to light racial inequality in various systems, including the culinary industry, Chef Dan opted to step away from the kitchen for a time. Blue Hill at Stone Barns changed to a residency model, with a different chef-in-residence taking over each month.
Chef Dan says this about his decision: “I’m learning about structural changes that we need to make in order to ensure that at the heart of all of our future work we build a community and a culture that are supportive, equitable, and diverse.”
The residency program, which lasted until the fall of 2021, gave men and women of color the opportunity to helm the Blue Hill at Stone Barns kitchen. 9 different chefs took on the role of chef-in-residence, and each one brought a different perspective to the kitchen.
Resident chefs brought recipes from Nigeria, Chile, China, Mexico, and more to the Hudson Valley. They put a unique twist on Stone Barns’s local menu, highlighting the regional ingredients in new and exciting ways. Chef Dan and his team continue to use several techniques that the resident chefs brought to the table.
The Future of Blue Hill at Stone Barns
At the end of 2021, Chef Dan returned to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Now, he’s more determined than ever to use his restaurant as a teaching platform.
Guests at Blue Hill at Stone Barns must go on a 90-minute tour of the grounds before their meal. This tour shows guests where their food comes from and how it is harvested and prepared.
Chef Dan hopes his restaurant experience encourages people to be more mindful of what they eat.
He’s also using his restaurant as a teaching tool for chefs. He wants the chefs who pass through his kitchen to get passionate about sustainable, mindful eating, and to take that passion with them when they leave.
“I’m hoping that the employees of our restaurant find a kind of platform that they can take with them. . . I hope we can give them the tools to be successful as they move on from Blue Hill and put a stake in the ground wherever they do.”
The full extent of Chef Dan’s impact on the culinary world remains to be seen. The movement for sustainable, ethical eating is only growing, and it is thanks in no small part to Dan Barber and Blue Hills at Stone Farms.