“I was shocked,” Dan Barber told the Daily Transom.
Last week, the 39-year-old executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in Greenwich Village and Westchester’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns (and nominee for outstanding chef at tonight’s James Beard Foundation Awards) found his name printed among those of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Tiger Woods, Arianna Huffington, Tina Fey and the founders of Twitter, to name just a few, when Time magazine released its annual 100 World’s Most Influential People list. (“His ethics … are a model for all chefs and all those who love good food,” Time noted.)
“Had it been 10 years ago—and this isn’t false modesty—I just don’t think that I would have been available for this award,” said Mr. Barber. “What I’m representing is really a much stronger consciousness and awareness that’s allowing people like me to have more of a voice. So I’m flattered, but I also know it’s a sign of the times.”
It was Saturday afternoon, May 2, and Mr. Barber was at a high school in Park Slope talking about sustainable eating.
A leader in the local food movement here in New York—most of what is served in both Blue Hills is grown or raised on an 80-acre farm adjacent to the Westchester location (it doubles as an agricultural education center)—Mr. Barber’s appearance was perhaps the main attraction of the inaugural Brooklyn Food Conference, which organizers said drew several thousand attendees.
“Do you think more people will start growing vegetables because Michelle Obama has planted a garden on the White House lawn?” asked WNYC’s Leonard Lopate, who moderated a panel called “Our sustainable restaurants: A roundtable of NYC chefs,” which included Mr. Barber and fellow Manhattan power chefs/greenmarket regulars Peter Hoffman of Savoy and Telepan’s Bill Telepan.
“I actually do,” Mr. Barber replied amid a bit of laughter from the audience. “I don’t know if it’s going to translate into more people actually growing their own food. But I do think it will translate into more people thinking about cooking with the kind of food that she’s growing. That’s key to reiterating that the chef’s role, aside from providing delicious food and having people think about the connections to where that food is from, is also to inspire people to actually cook.”
After the panel concluded, the Daily Transom managed to get a word in with Mr. Barber before he was swarmed by a few dozen of the crunchy foodies who had filled the John Jay High School auditorium to hear him speak.
We couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Barber was concerned that, as the recession tightens its grip, more and more New Yorkers might not be able to afford to eat ethically at his restaurants, especially Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where a five-course tasting menu will run you close to $100.
“It’s always a concern because this kind of food is special, but my answer in terms of Blue Hill at Stone Barns is that it’s a free public access facility, so you could come at 9 in the morning on a Saturday, enjoy a little breakfast at the cafe very cheap, have a free tour of the farm, a light lunch, another class in the afternoon, sit down for dinner and enjoy a multi-course menu, and at the end of the day end up spending around $200,” he said. “It’s a lot cheaper than going to Disneyland.”