Page 27 - The Valley Table - November/December 2020
P. 27

                                  WHAT’S NEXT FOR BLUE HILL?
In August, Blue Hill at Stone Barns announced that it would not reopen with its pre-COVID iteration, but would transition to a chef-in-residency program starting in 2021. Dan Barber explains how the restaurant adapted its recently Michelin-starred dining experience during COVID, and why now felt like the right time to make
a change.
When COVID started, how did you respond?
Since March, we’ve been producing this range of curated food boxes that you pick up at Blue Hill. We have a meat box, fish box, dairy box, vegetable box. There’s been a pretty robust program that we had to do overnight. It’s worked. We started a picnic in late June, where people picnic outdoors right on our patio, lawn, or courtyard. That’s been going great. Now the weather’s turning cold, so we have to figure out what our next move is.
Why did you decide not to offer indoor dining?
First of all, we have a lot of advantages that other people don’t have. We have a lot of outdoor space, so, if we didn’t have to serve inside, that was preferable.
From a revenue standpoint, how do the boxes and picnics compare to normal dining?
We’re charging a lot less for a picnic. The box is really expensive to run. But the main point of all of this was to keep our employees employed and keep farmers farming who have special contracts with us and who rely on an institution like a restaurant to survive because they don’t have a strong retail presence. That was key.
Can you tell us about the decision to change to a chef- in-residency program going forward?
The chef-in-residency program is a project in the works, but it’s essentially turning over the walls of Blue Hill in 2021 to a chef who would create a menu in keeping with the protocols we’ve established over 20 years, the things we’ve learned about working with different farmers, and the way we collaborate and cohabitate with Stone Barns Center. Someone will be free to create a menu under some of the guidelines we’ve established, but also to do it with different cuisine, different perspective, and from voices that aren’t heard that often. We’re not trying to pick famous chefs. We’re picking chefs who, for the most part, have lost a stove during COVID and are looking for a place to land in the interim.
Why did this seem like the right moment?
Well, obviously, COVID had something to do with it. Already, one in six restaurants in the United States have gone bankrupt or out of business. That’s the beginning of what seems like a huge, catastrophic moment for
the restaurant industry. We have a very blessed canvas to work from, and allowing other people to express themselves in this place is very unique. So, we all felt that was something important to do.
all food. It’s a diet disease. The reason COVID has been so disastrous for this country, besides our ineptitude at dealing with it, is that our personal immunities are weak. That’s from food. Food is the great defense before the vaccine.
We have a dire emergency with our food system, and it’s killing us. That’s going to be the story that comes out of COVID. The answer is restaurants that are independent, local, support local farms, and that produce fresh food, often delicious food, [with] lots of vegetables and grains, not with meat as the main driver. Those are the restaurants you want because they influence the culture and influence eating habits.
 photo by andre baranowski
nov – dec 2020 25
Good chefs celebrate diversity. Restaurants
are really the meeting places of healthfulness. Legislators, I don’t think they’re thinking about it in those terms.
[If there’s one positive, it’s that] people have been forced to have a new relationship with food, which is exciting. You’ve been home more; you’ve been cooking for yourself more. That’s the trick for a better food system. Cook more yourself because, when you let other people cook for you, you very quickly get food that’s less good for you, less tasty, and you generally eat more of it.
What this pandemic has forced is connection. It’s so sad that it took COVID to see this in the way that people in the sustainable food world have been talking about forever. Maybe it leads to some profound changes on the connection between our health, our food, and farming. It’s all one subject. Losing these farms that are in trouble because of restaurants going under is an irony that’s so cruel because these diverse farms are
the ones we need most. My hope is that there’s an appreciation for diversity, and that the work they’re doing leads to a consciousness coming out of this. That’s something to hope for.”

   25   26   27   28   29