Blue Hill at Stone Barns has gained accolades from just about every corner of the food world (including two Michelin stars) for its groundbreaking approach to sustainable gastronomy. But Dan Barber’s restaurant may be selling a story that doesn’t quite align with its practices inside and outside the kitchen.
To detail accounts of everything from deception to sexual assault, Eater’s Meghan McCarron spoke with more than 45 people, including more than 20 former Blue Hill employees. Repeated requests to speak with Blue Hill’s leadership were denied, and all communication from Blue Hill and Barber came through a spokesperson.
While McCarron’s report is worth reading in full, a few episodes in particular paint a portrait of a toxic working environment at Blue Hill from the period of 2014 to 2020, the time period that McCarron covers. Temper tantrums and angry outbursts have long been documented in some of the world’s best kitchens, and Barber seems to have carried on that tradition. Employees said the chef made them cry on multiple occasions, and some picked up his practices and bullied others in return. One employee said that, at a non-work barbecue, a cook pushed him so that his hands landed in a fire. While he told Barber about the incident at the time, the response was simply to “quash this thing and get back to work.” (The spokesperson for Blue Hill told Eater that Barber didn’t remember the incident or making the purported statement. In response to Robb Report‘s request for comment, a spokesperson said, “Blue Hill and Dan have always strongly supported our team members and fostered a work environment where they can learn and grow. The article’s anecdotes by a small number of former staff paint a misleading picture that does not accurately portray our culture and our teams.”)
One of the most serious allegations in the piece comes from a former cook at the restaurant who says he was sexually assaulted at a party by another chef at Blue Hill in a management position. While the restaurant carried out an investigation at the time, it did not fire the more senior chef, which devastated the younger cook and ultimately contributed to him leaving Blue Hill. (Through its spokesperson, Blue Hill disputed much of the former employee’s account to Eater.)
The alleged infractions behind-the-scenes are pretty damning all on their own. But beyond that, McCarron explains how Blue Hill, which prides itself on its innovative use of the natural environment and local farming, is not so up front about its practices and ingredients when talking with guests. In one account, some diners were treated to a slow-poached egg pulled straight out of Blue Hill’s compost oven—except one employee recalled having placed fully cooked eggs into the oven before guests arrived.
In another example, employees would allegedly churn butter right in front of guests, talking about Blue Hill Farm and its cows. However, oftentimes the butter was made with cream from another dairy farm. (Blue Hill told Eater that it never intentionally misrepresented its preparations, dishes or ingredients and sought to clarify the butter incident in a nearly 1,000-word statement. To Robb Report, a spokesperson said, “We accurately describe our dishes to guests. This can be confirmed by scores of current and former employees, and by nightly ‘call sheets’ and other educational materials provided to staff.”)
In all, the report is an unflattering portrayal of one of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants—one that punctures its idyllic image of itself. But the last couple years have shown that what is alleged in the Eater article is not entirely uncommon in the restaurant industry.