Do you have a Netflix account? I hope you do but if you don’t, it’s time to cozy up to someone who does.
I just love food stories that are told via recipes, cookbooks and interviews with makers, but lately food films (like the mini-series My Life in Sourdough, which I’ve devoured) have caught up nicely. So, it seems only natural that I fell hard for the incredible food stories in the just-released-this-week Netflix series, Chef’s Table.
The six episode series was created by filmmaker David Gelb, also known for Jiro Dreams of Sushi. And, the six international chefs profiled — Massimo Bottura (Modena, Italy), Dan Barber (New York City, USA), Francis Mallmann (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Niki Nakayama (Los Angeles, USA), Ben Shewry (Melbourne, Australia) and Magnus Nilsson (Järpen, Sweden) — are in such skilled hands. Each episode is an intimate look into the reason these food artists do what they do, from Massimo Bottura’s break from Italian tradition to Niki Nakayama’s passion for kaiseki.
Lucky me, I got to ask Dan Barber, one of America’s best chefs, all about what he does and why he does it. In the rare case that you haven’t heard of this culinary legend, Dan Barber is a champion of sustainable farming, food, and dining, and mashes up all three in his New York restaurants, Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which use produce grown by Blue Hill Farm.
Dan Barber has won multiple James Beard Awards, including top chef in America in 2009. He has written about food and agricultural issues for publications like the New York Times and Food & Wine. His first book, The Third Plate, was published in May 2014.
How does your work break with tradition? How does it embrace it?
Increasingly, I am looking toward tradition—to the great peasant cuisines around the world that took shape around their landscapes. That’s not a tradition that you find much of in America, but it’s something to aspire to as a chef: trying to create dishes that directly reflect and support our ecology.
What do you hope to inspire in diners with your food?
My hope is that when people eat at Blue Hill, they’re not just thinking about the food on their plates — they’re seeing the history behind it: how each ingredient was created in the field or pasture. Engaging with that kind of recipe (the one that begins before the kitchen) is a much more delicious way to cook and eat.
Which experiences have most influenced your cooking style?
After culinary school, I spent a year staging in France, and I think that experience informed both my cooking style and the way I carry myself in the kitchen. There’s a discipline in French kitchens that you won’t find anywhere else.
What is the most difficult and most rewarding part of being a chef?
The reality of running two restaurants is that I’m rarely at home, which means missing out on time with my wife and two-year-old daughter. But a few nights a week they come into the restaurant and eat dinner at my desk. It’s the best part of my job.
You die tomorrow. What would you eat for your last supper?
Tomorrow? Well, we just got the first bunch of asparagus from the farmers’ market, so I’d probably be eating asparagus with fresh ricotta from Blue Hill Farm, our family dairy in the Berkshires.
Please share a little tip to inspire a home cook.
Subscribe to a CSA (community-supported agriculture program) and, more importantly, challenge yourself to use every ingredient you’re given. Pretty soon you’ll be thinking more creatively—and more ecologically—in the kitchen.
What’s one of the best food gifts you’ve ever received? What’s your go-to food gift to give to friends?
How about a CSA subscription?
Photos courtesy of Chef’s Table.
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