Recently I’ve been on a Hulu Plus cooking show kick, binging on Lidia and Martha and the occasional Avec Eric with Eric Ripert. In fact, it was on one of Eric Ripert’s shows, where he cooks with Dan Barber (who’s now on Twitter, by the way), that I learned about pastured eggs. While touring Chef Ripert around Blue Hill Farm, Chef Barber says, “When buying eggs, you don’t want to look for free-range, necessarily…what you want to look for is pastured eggs.” Pastured meaning the chickens get to graze on grass and good stuff. I never thought I’d find pastured eggs at my supermarket, until…
I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure that if there is a heaven, it’s a lot like Blue Hill Stone Barns. You arrive by train, the water of the Hudson glistening as you glide along the tracks. The cabs waiting for you to take you to the restaurant aren’t normal cabs: these cabs are clean, the drivers are careful–this must be heaven indeed.
As you enter the grounds, everything is green and bright and welcoming. You get out of the car and you begin to stroll; you’re in no hurry, you got there early so you can take it all in. You walk down stairs and study the Greenhouse: it reminds you of something out of a fairy tale. You continue your walk and you see turkeys in a pen: one of them’s escape and you take a picture.
We ask many things of our food. We ask that our food is clearly identifiable (anything strange and murky immediately turns us off); we ask that our food is reasonably healthy–even if that means laying a redemptive tomato on a greasy, heart-crushing 5-pound burger. We ask that our food is prepared in a clean kitchen, we ask that our food is served hot, or at least reasonably warm. We ask that our food is tasty, that it is filling, that it has good value ($20 for two scallops does not a happy customer make). Mostly, we ask that our food fills that very primal need for gastronomical satisfaction. What we don’t often ask is for our food to have a story.
What did you have for lunch today? Where did you get it? Ok, you got it from the sandwich shop, or you made it yourself, but what went in it? And where did that come from? What’s its story?
The plate you see in the above photo has a fantastic story. If I told you it’s just ribs and coleslaw, that might be enough for you–in fact, that’d be enough for most people. When I was growing up, a special treat was a trip to Bobby Rubino’s (A Place for Ribs) where the ribs and coleslaw were plentiful (and relatively cheap) and anyone who asked, “Do these ribs have a story?” would be socked on the head. I’m sure the ribs at Bobby Rubino’s have a story, it’s just not a story you’d want to know. But the story of the plate above is a story that should make you happy. Let me tell it to you.
Menu For Hope IV: Dinner For Two At Blue Hill Stone Barns (UE01) OR Autographed Amateur Gourmet Books With A Pastry (UE02)
“Menu for Hope,” Pim’s extraordinary food blog fundraiser, raised $60,000 last year for the UN World Food Programme. This year we’re raising money for the UN again only the money is being directed to a wonderful cause: the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa. Says Pim: “We chose to support the program in Lesotho because it is a model program in local procurement – buying food locally to support local farmers and the local economy. Instead of shipping surplus corn across the ocean, the WFP is buying directly from local subsistent farmers who practice conservation farming methods in Lesotho to feed the children there. We feed the kids, keep them in school, and support their parents and community farming. This sustainable approach to aid is something we believe in and strongly support.”
This year I wanted a prize that’d raise the most money possible. And while the previous prizes I’ve offered have been fun–New York in a Box comes to mind–I know that my cooking and shopping skills, however laudable, are not the kind of skills that inspire the masses to open their wallets.
So whose would?
The answer came easy: Dan Barber. Here’s a chef at the top of his game, foodies adore him, and his restaurant–Blue Hill at Stone Barns–is a restaurant I once called my new favorite restaurant. Now it’s my absolute favorite restaurant, Craig’s too, and in the interest of giving you, my beloved readers, a chance to make it YOUR favorite restaurant, I reached out to them.
And would you believe it, Blue Hill at Stone Barns saw me reaching out, said “hey!” and is now generously donating a dinner for two PLUS a tour of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. The prize is for food only and the reservation can only be for a Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday at 5 PM or 9 PM. Those are the only stipulations. Otherwise, a dinner for two at Blue Hill Stone Barns can be YOURS for as little as $10–all you need is the prize code: UE01.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Go to the donation page;
2. Specify which prize you’d like in the “Personal Message” using the prize code (UE01). The amount you donate correlates to how many times you’ll be entered: each “entry” costs $10, so you can enter 1000 times for $10,000.
(For more detailed instructions, go here.)
Now to those of you who say, “Adam, I love that you got this awesome awesome prize for your readers, but you live far far away from me–I live in Iceland, my name is Bjork–and I can’t go eat dinner in a barn in New York. I’d rather you sent me two autographed copies of your book and a homemade pastry. Can you do that?’
Well, Bjork, unfortunately I can’t ship pastries to Iceland: that’d be too expensive. But if you live in America I will send you 2 autographed copies of my book and a homemade pastry with prize code UE02. And if you’re international, I’ll send you two autographed copies of my book and some souveniers from my kitchen. Hey, that’s not fancy but it’s fun, isn’t it?
Here’s hoping we raise lots and lots of money. Thanks to Pim and to all the other food bloggers participating: it’s an honor to do this again.
Check out my Salon interview with Dan Barber about Thanksgiving and turkey and how you can “fuckin’ blow it out: high heat all the way.” Am I doing that? No, I’m a wimp. Plus, our oven only goes up to 450.
I don’t know about you, but I think New York Magazine gave me free passes to its Taste of New York event because of my photography skills. I mean with a picture like this, what else could it be?
Ok, that’s a pretty bad picture but, in its own particular way it gives you a sense of the room: chefs, foodies, lights, cameras, suits, dresses, hair, tablecloths. Ilan Hall from Top Chef was there, as were all the bloggers–Eater, Grub Street, NYC Nosh–plus other journalists, media types, and, of course, New York’s favorite chefs. But there was one person there who was happier than anyone else–a certain someone who, after going last year–begged me to take him again….
Seasonal is the New Pink (An Essay with Visits to BLT Market, Park Avenue Summer and Blue Hill Stone Barns)
Can you imagine going to a restaurant 10 or 15 years ago, sitting down at the table, glancing at the wine list and enjoying the surroundings, only to have the server set down a plate–no, not a plate, a wooden box–with spikes jutting out and on the top of each spike a tiny tomato? That’s precisely what happened last night to Craig and I at Blue Hill Stone Barns, now officially our favorite restaurant. “I’ve never been to a better restaurant,” Craig declared halfway through our meal. “This is as good as it gets.”
Tomatoes on spikes as good as it gets? Were we out of our minds? What happened to cooking–good old fashioned cooking–where ingredients matter far less than technique, execution, saucing, plating, style? Is this seasonal food movement just a fad, the new “pink,” a craze with as much staying power as slap bracelets or Tickle Me Elmo? Without question, seasonal has become trendy: we saw Katie Couric at BLT Market when I went there with my family last week; and Park Avenue Summer, where we had brunch on Sunday, seems more concerned with the farm as a design motif than a philosophical conceit. Check out this bowl of fruit that came with my “seasonal” brunch:
Sure, peaches are still in season, and figs are too, but were these grown locally? The strawberries look supermarket plump and the taste made me think that some of these guys had spent the night before in the fridge; compare that to the tomatoes in the top picture and you can see how a concept travels from pure expression (fresh farm tomatoes, picked that morning) to empty posturing (a sad, flavorless fruit bowl). Is this what’s in store for the seasonal food movement? Disingenuous branding that taps into a collective need to return to the earth?