“Don’t believe everything they tell you, it’s still New York!” Some wise advice from our cab driver before we got out of his car. But it doesn’t feel like New York at all anymore when we arrived at the property of Blue Hill at Stone Barns during sunset. We passed by the grazing cows, drove up the long lane through the gardens and walked up to the big barn where we arrived at the restaurant and entered the philosophy of Dan Barber.
We treated ourselves with a glass of amazing Lété-Vautrain champagne to start with while browsing the ‘field and pasture journal’ on the table telling us about the concept and the vegetables they harvest at the farm per month. Besides this there is no menu. Dishes are completely planned by the seasons combined with weekly butchering of various home-reared, happy animals. Let the seasons tell you where to begin this grazing, pecking, rooting menu.
And so a true fashion show of the most beautiful dressed up vegetables started, brought to us in high speed to still our appetite. A parade of seemingly simple amuses but just slightly burnt, smoked, dried, drizzled, fermented into perfection. If you’ve seen the Netflix Chef’s Table documentary it’s obvious Dan Barber strives for perfection and that sure shows during this dinner. Every dish was styled into a little piece of art while the products were almost all still in its pure form. A bouquet of mixed salads, mini vegetables on pins, coloured sliced beets perfectly arranged, a squash tartare with quail egg, a mini beet burger on a brass chicken feet: All a pleasure for the eye and the tastebuds. We also got some meat dishes like a Venison heart pastrami with apple sauce and one insanely delicious pork liver with chocolate.
Bread didn’t show up until halfway throughout the meal. This is not the type of place you need to fill yourself up on bread so it was good it didn’t come at the start. Now it was just an extra, very tasteful, addition to the courses. And the fresh whey butter that came with it was heavenly. They even told us the name of the cow it came from, which I might have forgot after 6 months. Or it might have been the champagne. I think it was Berta.
To stretch our legs we got a little ‘field trip’ to the bakery where we got a bread tasting and explanation about the different wheats and methods. A nice break before we continued our dinner. Or maybe I should call it a dinner show. The choreography of the staff was obviously well-practiced. They were swirling around the table like dancers, elegantly placing the courses in front of you. A true ballet that made the experience an entertaining night out. Seeing a Broadway show could be crossed off our to do list now.
After a couple of happy animal dishes we ended the meal with one of my favourites: A parsnip ‘steak’. This parsnip has been in the ground for almost a year, then got roasted like a steak and served with a Bordelaise sauce made with bones. The iconic steak inverted.
The following desserts were not overly sweet and also incorporated vegetables. We ended our meal full but not in an uncomfortable way.
Our dinner at Blue Hill was nothing similar to anything I ate at other ambitious Michelin restaurants I’ve been to. It was a dinner that makes you think. Besides cooking his amazing food Dan Barber’s mission is also to educate. Not only himself and his staff, but also the wider community and future generations. Food doesn’t just happen in the kitchen. He questions everything. If it’s edible, there’s a use for it but if you don’t have good ingredients you can’t make good food. When you’re after chasing the best flavours you need to learn about farming, growing, preparing and cooking real food. A lot of chefs are thinking like this nowadays but here it goes to a next level. You can feel the kind of brute-hard work that goes into this restaurant. Every little detail is thought through. And nevertheless it all felt relaxed and not stressful at all. Just completely under control.
We cannot take these inspiring places for granted. We all know that the real recipe for flavour begins long before the kitchen but we need to do more to engage with that process. This really is next level farm-to-table dining.
I definitely believed everything they told me, despite the cab driver’s advice, I know.
Check Blue Hill Farm’s website for more information. You can also just visit the farm (which we unfortunately didn’t) and have lunch at the Blue Hill Café which offers light snacks, farm-fresh lattes, and other locally grown goodies. Or try the original Blue Hill restaurant in Greenwich Village when you’re in New York City.