Dan Barber: The Sustainability Scribe
Executive chef and co-owner, Blue Hill NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, New York City and Westchester, NYuser rating
Chef Dan Barber oversees an 80-acre culinary center featuring a working organic farm, an agriculture-education center and a chic and rustic farm-to-table restaurant, all backed by the Rockefeller Foundation. His mission: to make the distance food travels from soil or sea to mouth as short as possible—not just at Stone Barns, where guests can practically reach out the window and pluck their own Swiss chard, but globally.
Barber’s intellect and passion have made him the natural visionary for the food sustainability cause. When he isn’t talking pigs with his livestock manager or dreaming up new ways to bring out the milky sweet in a just-harvested cauliflower, he is writing about smart, sustainable food choices for The New York Times or The Nation, or attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, or addressing President Barack Obama’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
And though the conversation can sometimes get lofty and political when he’s in the room, he knows exactly how to make it real with one simple word: flavor.
“Food grown responsibly just tastes better,” says Barber. “I have not come across a leg of lamb or a carrot that tasted delicious that didn’t have some very sound ecological practices behind it. Even if you are a chef who couldn’t care less about the environment, or farm workers’ rights, you are helping the cause if you are making ingredient choices based on flavor,” he says. “Chefs are society’s appointed arbiters of taste,” which is why, Barber says, they are the natural emissaries for the cause.
“What we choose to buy as chefs is so connected to the political arena,” he emphasizes.
But that’s just the beginning. Chefs also need to “educate themselves about sound agricultural practices and about food production,” Barber says. And they need to do it fast. “We are heading to a big shift, a whole new consciousness,” he says. “And chefs need to ask themselves: do we have the supply for this revolution?” —Pascale Le Draoulec
Pascale Le Draoulec is a James Beard Award–winning author who has written about food and restaurants for more than 15 years.