Inside Blue Hill

Few awards mean more to a chef than a James Beard Foundation Award. But it can be particularly meaningful for those chefs who have grown with a restaurant for over 10 years — an accolade saved for the Outstanding Restaurant Award, presented by Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water.    

This year's nominees run the spectrum of location and cuisine: August in New Orleans; Blue Hill in New York City; Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala.; The Slanted Door in San Francisco; and Spiaggia in Chicago. We teamed up with Acqua Panna to go to each restaurant, share a meal, and discuss with each chef how their restaurants have maintained their quality and continually evolved over the years.

We started our journey in New York City at Blue Hill. Opened in 2000, the restaurant is co-owned by David and Laureen Barber with executive chef Dan Barber. The cuisine is seasonal American with a focus on local ingredients. Since opening, the restaurant has evolved to work closely with the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture as well as the Barber's family farm, Blue Hill Farm, in order to have greater control over their ingredients. In 2004, the Barbers also opened a second restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The restaurants and the cuisine have evolved and continually refined themselves in order to keep pushing for dishes that are celebrating the ingredients.

At my recent meal I enjoyed dishes such as Charcoal Celeriac with Rhode Island Squid, a play on squid ink pasta that brings the flavor of the squid alive with the freshness of the celeriac, and an of-the-moment First of the Season Green Garlic Soup, which allowed one of spring's best products to sing.

We sat down with Dan Barber to discuss the changes he has seen in the restaurant over the years and how he believes the restaurant will keep moving forward. He believes the work with the farms has fully changed the restaurant, and he is currently excited to work with the farmers as well as the breeders in order to keep bringing produce to the Hudson Valley that hasn't been grown before. "[We're] thinking of the menu in terms of not just seasonality but its rotations for soil fertility, its breeds of vegetables, and it's that kind of connection with the farm that has brought these issues of locality and seasonality and great flavor stronger to the menu," he says. "So one way through that is experimental breeds of vegetables for example.... Both of these farms are always pushing newer varieties that are out there being introduced by breeders that haven't hit the mainstream farmer market. The flavors I think are really suited for deliciousness."

For more, watch the video above! And make sure to look for our next visit, to Chicago's Spiaggia, next week!