Photo: Blue Hill
It seems that everyone is finally catching on to what Dan and David Barber, co-owners of Blue Hill, have known for over a decade.Chefs said that locally-sourced ingredients would be the biggest restaurant trend of 2011, according to the National Restaurant Association.
There are lots of benefits to sourcing locally: the food is organic, it supports the local farming community and cuts back on carbon emissions because there’s less travel time.
It’s also more expensive to do things this way, which is why a visit to Blue Hill Farm in Westchester, NY, will cost a few hundred dollars (there’s no menu, just a number of courses to choose from. Its restaurant in the West Village is also expensive, but there’s a seasonal menu).
Dan, who’s the chef, has been named one of Time’s most influential people; and together the brothers have hosted a number of famous customers, including Barack and Michele Obama. We briefly caught up with David, who handles the business side, to talk about the benefits of sourcing locally. Here are a few takeaways:
What inspired Blue Hill restaurants?
Blue Hill is named after my grandmother’s farm in the Berkshires. My brother and I were both born in the 1960s, and in the 1970s and ’80s we watched another family driven out of farming. The economic challenges then are still here today.
Dan got into cooking and sourcing from the Hudson Valley. His focus is flavour and ingredients. We opened our West Village location in 1999, and Stone Farms in 2004, where all ingredients are sourced from local farmers.
When did this movement of sourcing locally really begin?
Great restaurants have always sourced that way.
But the movement really started taking place in the late ’90s, when customers starting making assumptions about where their food was coming from. You could say it coincided with the rise of the Internet and information age. A big part of the restaurant business was caught off guard. Are they sourcing the right kinds of people? It was fashionable to begin sourcing locally, but also based somewhat on fear.
It’s also expensive.
If you source from high-quality producers, there are high food costs. As a restaurateur, we make use of ingredients to eliminate waste. It’s part of our “no menus” philosophy [at Stone Farms]. There’s a not-for-profit farm we’re sitting next to. We’re always buying what they grow. We buy products at fair market value.
So essentially we’re limiting the choice — changing the experience by making it a supply-side model. It’s a very different way to look at the economics of farming. It’s way healthier. More people see that: should you actually eat what farmers say you should be eating?
The logistics are easier when you’re based next to a farm. What about in New York City?
It’s difficult for a single small restaurant in New York to source locally. You’ve got to deliver on many levels. That’s why many restaurants are mediocre.
The beauty of Stone Farms is that the chefs, waiters, education staff and farmers are interacting all day.
Were you at the restaurant when the Obamas visited in 2009?
Yes. We got a 10-minute notice. It was just the Obamas wanting to take a break, have a nice evening out. When they stood up, the whole restaurant applauded. It was a nice New York moment.
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