I was watching a television about wine the other day, and one of the conversations between the presenter and wine maker Sean Thackrey caught my attention. This unique wine maker does not one his own vineyard, but instead chooses to source his grape from other vineyards. His argument was that a wine maker is like a chef, and few chefs own their own farms.
So what if the chef does own his own farm?
While the recent year’s culinary trend has been calling for fresh, local organic produce, one restaurant has taken it a step further, 6 years ago. In the heart of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is an elegant restaurant that sources its ingredients from Stone Barns and local Hudson Valley farms and pastures.
Other restaurants pride themselves on shopping at the green market, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is in a different league.
I booked my meal at Stone Barns almost a month in advance, as they have been increasing popular ever since some started referring it to the French Laundry of the East. While I usually choose to have dinner at fine restaurants, I opted for their Sunday Farmer’s Lunch because I wanted to take in the sights and sounds of the farm during daytime.
For those who’ve never been to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, it’s an impressive collage of a farm, learning center, and restaurant. I strongly urge everyone to make two visits, one to tour the farm, and another to dine. The elegant dress code makes it difficult to put on proper footwear for both activities.
As we waited in the lounge for our guests to arrive, many visitors were coming in to take a peek at the restaurant, only to be told that reservations and jackets are required.
Blue Hills does not have a menu that you can order from, but the wait staff still puts into your hands a “menu” that describes what you’re about to experience. Ingredients from the farm, beyond the farm, and occasionally, way beyond.
Our lunch started with a simple snow pea, lightly charred and salted. Most restaurants use the amuse bouche to whet your appetite, Blue Hills uses this to prepare you mentally as well. The chef wants you to realize how delicious fresh produce can taste. (From this point on, I will stop using the adjective “fresh”, it’s implied across the board)
This was followed by what I call “root vegetable on a stick”, the famous miniature beet burgers, and slices of dried beef.
Our first course was a smoked tomato soup with oyster mushrooms and oysters. Every few minutes I see a chef appear outside our window to smoke produce over an open flame (probably not an option at most restaurants), and the efforts certainly show. The soup was rich, smoky and delicious.
The next course, fitting of the usual Sunday brunch schedule, was “this morning’s egg”. An egg served with spinach and purple potatoes. I could not tell what was in the broth, but I would say it’s the best prepared egg I’ve eaten.
Next up was a zucchini pasta, cooked al dante. Preserved “embryonic egg” yolks were shaved table-side, giving it a pungent yet fitting taste not unlike truffles or cheese.
The main entrée was Berkshire pork with carrots. The different cuts of pork were each cooked slightly differently to bring out the flavor and texture.
Dessert was befitting of the fall weather. Warm preserved vegetables with a fried puff of cheese.
By the time we were done with our Lunch, dinner service was about to begin. A chef reappeared at the wood stove again, smoking more produce and adding logs to the fire. Given the option, I would have chosen to stay for another meal. In the ideal world, all restaurants would own their own farms. Luckily for New Yorkers, a version of this idealistic setting is just a 40 minute drive away.
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Blue Hill at Stone Barns (Make a Reservation)
630 Bedford Rd
Tarrytown, NY 10591