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Interview with Dan Barber

October 14, 2008

Dan Barber serves on the board of directors for Stone Barns, an education center for sustainable food and farm in upstate New York, in addition to being the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Restaurant, nominated for the 2001 James Beard award for best new restaurant. As a chef, he gets most of his ingredients from the farm just a few hundred yards from his restaurant, and it’s paid off  Food & Wine Magazine featured Dan as one of the country’s “Best New Chefs,” and he has since been featured in The New Yorker and Gourmet Magazine,in addition to being included in “The Next Generation” of great chefs in Bon Appétit’s 10th annual restaurant issue. He’ll be coming to do a Master’s tea at 4:00 at the Saybrook master’s house tomorrow, and I was able to get a few words with him today:

Why is Stone Barns Important?

It provides an opportunity to know where food is coming from, where it’s grown, and what it can taste like when there’s a local food system in place. [Blue Hill Restaurant] provides the talk about food in a context of delicious delight. You can talk about serious issues related to food, but based around pleasure and enjoyment. These kinds of issues are most successful when they’re based around hedonism instead of restraint.

What’s more important, that food be delicious or environmentally responsible?

I just don’t know one without the other. I’ve never experienced really delicious food without ecological stewardship behind it. great tasting food is grown in an environment with diversity behind it’s landscape, whether it’s vegetables, or breeds of animals. Everything in the environment, from A-Z is reflected in the flavor, whether it’s a lamb or a carrot.

What about the guy that genuinely likes the taste of a McDonald’s hamburger?

That’s when you get into tricky territory, it’s hard to make statements about taste. But I do beleive that if that Mcdonald’s hamburger guy were to taste a burger that was raised on all grass and bread that wasn’t highly processed, he would ultimately prefer that burger. He’d be paying more, but right now he doesn’t have a choice about that. But, you know, it gets complicated when you get into opinions about taste.

What’s the best way to cook a burger?

The best way to cook a burger is rare, if you know where the meat is coming from.

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