Driving up the road that leads to the Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant, you see many of the ingredients for its menu items: Chickens roost on the lawn, cows graze in a distant field, and pigs root in the woods. The year-round greenhouse (and, during the summer, the 4-acre garden) brims with lettuce, beets, baby carrots, squash, herbs, broccoli, and other vegetables and herbs. The drive not only provides a dinner preview, it offers an introduction to the philosophy behind Stone Barns. The restaurant is just one part of a $30 million experiment designed to promote community farming and reacquaint people with how food is produced.
Opened in May, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, named for the Norman-style stone barns on the property, is located on the Rockefeller family’s Pocantico Hills estate in the Hudson River Valley about 30 miles from New York City. David Rockefeller funded the center as a tribute to his late wife, Peggy, who founded the American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the country’s farms. She also ran a cattle operation on the 80 acres of land now occupied by the center.
Here, visitors have the opportunity to witness every stage of the food-production cycle, from growing vegetables and raising animals to harvesting crops, preparing meals, and composting. You are encouraged to roam the grounds, visit the greenhouse, walk through the gardens, and view the restaurant kitchen. “Our mission is to demystify food and then demonstrate how to eat it, whether it is eating a lettuce leaf by itself or in a dish,” explains Daphne Derven, Stone Barns’ program and development director. “It’s about letting the ingredients speak for themselves.”
The farm, educational facility, and restaurant operate independently, but the restaurant allows patrons to judge Stone Barns’ produce–and by extension, the complex’s reason for existing–by tasting it in the form of fine cuisine. Dan Barber, chef and creative director for the Blue Hill at Stone Barns operation, gained fame for using local produce at the original Blue Hill restaurant in New York City. Barber says that he quickly accepted when Rockefeller offered him the Stone Barns job, and it is easy to understand why. Here, he has hundreds of ingredients to feed his imagination. At the height of tomato season, he included the farm’s heirloom tomatoes in a green tomato gazpacho accented with tangy lemon sorbet and in the tomato coulis that accompanied a handmade cavatelli pasta dish. When in season, sugar snap peas were mashed and shaped into cannelloni tubes stuffed with crabmeat.
While Blue Hill at Stone Barns does not have to use everything that is grown or raised on site, Barber finds ways to include exotic ingredients such as claytonia, a flowering green that serves as an edible garnish in salads. He also uses less-choice cuts of meat to fill the sausages that have become a restaurant favorite. Chicken appears often on the menu because it was the first Stone Barns—raised meat ready for the table. Pork, duck, and turkey have since followed. Most of the other ingredients that Stone Barns lacks are supplied by local farms.
“The hope of the restaurant, as well as the center, is to awaken in the people in the community and beyond an awareness of where the food they eat comes from,” says Barber. “The hope is that we translate that consciousness into action.”
Blue Hill at Stone Barns