2013 American Chef of the Year: Dan Barber
"There’s a connection between great food and statements about the world," said chef Dan Barber, adding, "It’s a course of thought and action that’s one in the same, and one that quickly becomes political. It’s actually not even complicated. Being a good chef means being all of the things I mentioned. And it all very quickly becomes political."
Slender, serious, and thoughtful in demeanor, Barber is often hailed as one of America’s most thoughtful chefs, and one who has long been a passionate and influential advocate of responsible, farm-fresh, ingredient-driven cuisine — at both Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York's Westchester County. Dan Barber is an advocate, a teacher, and an inspiration, as well as being a very good cook. He was even named a "god of food" by TIME magazine.
For these reasons, we're pleased to announce that chef Dan Barber was singled out by The Daily Meal and its past honorees as 2013's American Chef of the Year (joined this year by The Daily Meal's 2013 International Chef of the Year Albert Adrià).When did you first realize that you were going to be a chef? Was there one moment? "No. But there have been many moments when I realized that I might never be a chef. I can name those for you." — Dan Barber
We reached out to the chefs to discover where they, and along with them the state of food, may be heading. In this interview with Dan Barber, the chef discusses whether chefs should be socially and politically active, anticipates some of the issues that may take center stage at the G9 summit in Brazil next year, the different menu approaches he takes at Blue Hill New York and Stone Barns, his upcoming book, and the attempt made by the farmers at Stone Barns to create great foie gras without using the controversial gavage technique. We also asked him 12 Actor’s Studio-type questions about his first food memories, his heroes and villains, and what qualities he looks for when he’s hiring a chef, among other things.
Should chefs be socially and politically active, or should they just cook good food, responsibly produced?
I don’t know what the difference is if you’re cooking good food. I don’t even know the difference. If you’re cooking good food responsibly… it has to be responsibly produced. It goes to it all being connected. If it’s good food, for the most part, it’s being produced in a way that’s environmentally sound. Or at least in a way that’s not denuding a landscape. I’ve yet to find an example of something that’s raised in a way that’s beneficial that’s not delicious, and I’d be interested to come across it. To answer the question in a holistic way, there’s no difference between those two. My first response would be that there’s not really any difference between a chef cooking good food, or to answer the second part of your question, there’s no dichotomy between a chef that’s just cooking, and a chef making a political statement. Whether you like it or not you’re making a political statement. You’re responsible to an environment. If you connect all those things, there really is no difference. And I don’t know that a chef has to choose, because our pursuits are great flavors. We are by definition politically active. We’re environmentalists because of it. We’re nutritionists because of it. We’re community activists because of it. For the most part, those things are raised in local environments or in environments where people are actually doing the work versus a denuded environment. There’s a connection between great food and statements about the world. It’s a course of thought and action that’s one in the same and one that quickly becomes political. It’s actually not even complicated. Being a good chef means being all of the things I mentioned. And it all very quickly becomes political.
What is the G9 summit and why is it important?
The G9 summit is a group of chefs who come together every year in a different host country and talk about issues related to being a chef. And why is it important? I don’t know that it’s any more important than any other gathering of chefs that come together to meet, whether it’s at a congress or even more informally in some ways, it’s just that there are not enough opportunities to engage with each other in part because we are so trapped in our turbulent little worlds that we spend very little time interacting with each other as chefs. And when that happens, for me anyway, and I don’t have a lot of examples of it because it doesn’t happen often, but when it does it seems to me like a very good opportunity to get together and talk about what’s going on in other parts of the country and other parts of the world around food and not gastronomy.