I might have been near Normandy in France the way the road opened in front of me with those stone barns set off the lane in the background. Several baby lambs ran beside my car and older sheep chewing calmly dotted the fields. It seemed everything on this farm worked in a specific meter. Each person I met was charged with a task of some kind, which they performed with a purpose, yet a smile at every turn was shared immediately and with meaning. It was a simple lesson in customer awareness, which enriched the scene.
Stone Barns, restored and in a sense re-created as they were 100 years prior in another time…. the drive through leafy forest north of here about an about an hour or a bit more, winding my way off the usual superhighway 287 route…the well beaten path of (old route) 9w through exclusive Alpine, NJ and across the Tappan Zee bridge from Morristown to Pocantico Hills.
The founder of Standard Oil built this living enterprise at one time with no cares as to how expensive or how to skimp on materials-this place for built to endure for centuries… now it is wistfully and lovingly recreated by Chef Dan Barber and team; who to my great delight was tromping across… (With several producers and video cameras in tow) a 50 or so acre-rolling field dotted with the mobile cages of the free ranging chickens. I happened to be walking the estate in the gathering mist and came upon a very animated but soft-spoken man, with time to spend teaching his craft to others… and being videotaped at the same time for some television event in the future. It was completely unscripted and he spoke using his hands for emphasis. He was classically dressed as a gentleman chef/farmer in crisply starched chef whites, white apron and euro-clogs.
I had transcended the decades and was standing about 50 yards away-not hearing his words-only seeing him point softly, calmly, in a gentle fashion at the food raised all around me. Cows patiently waited-sheep ate-goats burrowed and pigs slept the day away. Chickens slept.
The on site abattoir takes care of the nasty business of slaughtering- but this place, known for the “farm to table” approach to the craft of food-is disguised by few windows and few doors. You cannot see what goes on within, but I cannot imagine a fresher approach to dining.
Surrounding the abattoir, free ranging bird pens were filled with ancient varieties of edible birds, geese, turkey, chickens and ducks- which existed on grasses, and vegetarian grains almost hand fed by a swarm of young, eager farm workers… surrounded by pure soil and a constant variety of free-ranging insects who wander into the cages-then are hungrily devoured by the hungry, waiting birds. This variety shown above seems to have few feathers.. I imagined an “innner zip tab” engineered by ancestors long departed into the breasts for easy removal of all feathers. Chef Barber was pointing out to some young Berkshire Pigs who were napping-blissfully unaware of the restaurant “Blue Hill Stone Barns” just beyond a quiet knoll surrounded by a small pond.
They seemed to be smiling-perhaps they dreamt of warm days in the future there on this sustainable farm, their home and not of the sum of their parts which will grace someone’s farmers feast dinner later in the season?
I continued down the road and came upon the greenhouses. Over 1/2 acre under cover with roof panels which open with the time of day.
Tonight’s salad at Blue Hill was still in the ground.
Several female college students were snacking on a salad of Mache, chervil and faro grains with goat cheese made fresh daily from the farm. A young commis cook from the restaurant was charming them with some freshly picked greens, quickly prepared and served. I wanted to photograph them, but didn’t want to disturb their sense of discovery… The fog took over and I continued back to the front door of Blue Hill. But it was locked!
To my chagrin- Blue Hill/Stone Barns are closed at Lunch, unless it is a Sunday, but this was during the week… So-I enjoyed a visit to their well-appointed cafe. It reminded me a rurally set Chez Panisse. Friendly, smiling college aged girls and guys worked the steaming, spotless espresso machine. The foods were all self-serve, Tuna in water from Italy with chervil served on whole grains with a sprinkling of garden greens, a Frittata of local ramps and farm-made goat cheese-Sweets from classic breakfast treats to more succinct, yet humorous granola made on the farm with local dried berries and nuts, fresh yoghurt, milk from local farms and farm-made goat cheese filled the refrigerator cases-carefully chosen juices and seltzers-strawberry milk, chocolate milk and grand cups of steaming lattes…
… I helped myself to a lovely egg salad sandwich-composed of the day’s fresh eggs from the farm, capers, a simple garlic mayonnaise and then gently spooned over a warm slice of open faced chibatta bread from the estate’s bakery. Although a fine mist flew in my eyes-the energy of the place warmed me deeply. I enjoyed a tall glass of Ronnybrook Farms Chocolate Milk and photographed my lunch as it sat on the long wooden tables in my mind’s eye.
There were preserves to be sampled, made freshly on the farm. I chose an Apricot Jam and a Quince Preserve. Quince is meant to be cooked with, baked into a cheesecake of goat cheese and flaky crust. Not a sweet, but a savory.
The apricot jam made me think of iced summer wines from the Basque region of Spain, the softest bubbly nose…the flavors of stone fruits, some of those roasted apricots; marcona almonds coated in sea salt and drenched in fine olive oil…. the terroir from the soil. Deep in the earth-powerful salty flavors from the fogs, which hang over the ancient vineyards, fresh anchovies caught minutes before and then grilled over hardwood and sherry wine vinegar. Olives freshly crushed until they are a soft paste with garlic and anchovy more olive oil, grey salt and rosemary from the tree over there…. served with good charred country bread.
Creativity is easy to find when surrounded by deliberate provisions.
Lunch was a feeling of contentment. All that was missing was that plate of freshly grilled Anchovies right out of the sea and a glass of Spanish Txomin from the Basque Country to wash it all down.
Paul Bocuse once said-serve great bread and everything is possible.