Chef Dan Barber’s finger-food lessons. As told to F&W’s Kate Krader

Finger Food Lessons

Illustration © Lauren Tamaki.

After we opened Blue Hill in New York City in 2000, I decided to do a Valentine’s Day menu with no silverware. It’s an idea I essentially ripped off from Alain Rondelli, a brilliant chef in San Francisco in the very early 1990s. His food was quite traditional, but then he’d do these incredibly iconoclastic things, like have a waiter walk around the dining room with just-spun cotton candy. In 2012, that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but back then it was fantastic. I saw how happy everyone was, and I equated no silverware with being happy at a restaurant.

Then I tried it as a full meal for Valentine’s Day at Blue Hill. It was a fun idea, but miserably executed. We served distracting dishes, like sweetbreads skewered on something like cinnamon sticks. Instead of being about love and looking at each other, it was just messy.

Still, I’ve turned the no-silverware ethos into the first part of a meal at Stone Barns. We serve a bunch of little things you grab at and nibble on—carrots and young bok choy skewered on a “fence”; pancetta-wrapped hakurei turnips; beet burgers with olive oil financiers. It’s less formal, without the interruptions of clearing that happen when we serve the amuse-bouche with a lot of silverware.

But I’m not a trailblazer in any of this. I just ate at Noma in Copenhagen: During my first hour there, I can’t remember if we used silverware at all. I was busy crushing ants [Noma’s current menu features live ants] and nibbling, skewering and swiping a parade of imaginative things. That’s the evolution of where restaurants are going: more extreme spontaneity and interaction. You can’t eat ants with silverware.

F&W Best New Chef 2002 Dan Barber is the co-owner of Blue Hill in Manhattan and Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York.