The Why Guys

Dan Barber Wonders Why Cooking Has to Start in the Kitchen

Dan Barber

Art © Arthur Mount

Iconoclastic restaurant pro Dan Barber (Chef and Co-Owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY, and Blue HIll, New York City) questions conventional wisdom to push the dining scene forward.

Why does cooking have to start in the kitchen?
What if we could “cook” or manipulate flavors in the field, long before anything got into our kitchens? Different finishing feeds (like whey or apples) have been known to improve the taste and texture of pork—but what if we started looking at the entire life cycle of the pig? We might come to the realization (as I have) that a pig fed on grain is far less tasty than a pig that has intensively foraged on mixed grasses and roots. But which breeds, and what grasses, lead to the most specific improvements in flavor? Farmers have been figuring these things out for a long time, of course, but chefs can co-write and curate these procedures for the future of delicious food.

We can do the same with vegetables. For example, we worked with Stone Barns Center farmer Jack Algiere to try to infuse fennel with the pomace of hazelnuts, and the fennel tasted deliciously of lightly roasted nuts. And we’ve started storing apples with dried elderflowers—it makes an apple taste like a pineapple.

But what if we start even earlier in the life cycle? What if chefs began “cooking” a dish with seed breeders, encouraging certain flavors by asking breeders to select for them before the seeds are even planted? Innovation doesn’t need to start and end in the kitchen. Instead, we should be thinking about our recipes from the ground up.

Related: Dan Barber’s Tips for Cooking, Eating and Living Sustainably
Chefs Make Change: Dan Barber for Stone Barns Center
Dan Barber, Best New Chef 2002