For this new installment of our Draw Me A Fridge series (read about it here), we spoke with Dan Barber.
Dan Barber is the chef behind one of my all-time favorite restaurants, Blue Hill, in NYC’s Greenwich Village, and a farm-restaurant upstate, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, to which I’ve been longing to go for years. He is one of the most prominent chefs in the US, he’s an active participant in the discussion on ethics and sustainability, and he works with food and ideas with equal talent.
I recently had the opportunity to meet him in Paris, where he had been invited by Alain Ducasse to cook a special lunch at the Plaza Athénée hotel. Alexia Colson-Duparchy, who runs the Draw Me A Fridge series on Chocolate & Zucchini, joined me, and we talked about breeding, spoons, and fried eggs, among other things.
Lately I’ve been devoting a lot of my time to breeding. It’s not genetic engineering, it’s natural selection done with modern technology to make it go very fast, so that you get to where you want to go in two years as opposed to a hundred years.
Many chefs and people who love food want to go back to old seeds, the so-called heirlooms. But what’s interesting to me is how we can use some of the genetics from the past and help move it to the future. Heirlooms mean you stop at a particular moment in time: somebody says, that’s a great tomato, okay, we stop, and we’re going to pass down the seeds. It may be a fantastic tomato, but I think we can do better. I know we can do better. You have to use these genetics and those breeders who help us concentrate on flavor and disease resistance. It’s very important for farmers.
Tomorrow’s lunch is about that idea. We brought ingredients for each course. Wheat is a big one for me, because I’m working with a wheat breeder very closely. There will also be celtuse, a type of lettuce. We worked with a breeder on it and we planted it in dust from hazelnuts. The celtuse took some of the flavors from the hazelnut. It’s great.
Usually I use local ingredients, but I feel the theme of this lunch is more important.