Chef Dan Barber says it’s time to reboot our food system

NEW YORK – At Blue Hill, his intimate, understated restaurant in Greenwich Village famous for its locally sourced ingredients – not to mention having hosted Barack and Michelle Obama on a much-publicized date night – chef and co-owner Dan Barber is featuring a Rotation Salad this week.

Not the most inviting name for a dish, perhaps. But this salad epitomizes Barber’s new approach to food – not only how we prepare it, but how we farm, consume and even conceive of it.

And so this particular salad includes soil-building crops: Barley, buckwheat, rye. And legumes, a natural soil fertilizer: Peas, kidney beans, peanuts. A so-called “cover crop,” meant to replenish soil – pea shoots – is used in the vinaigrette. Seed crops include benne and rapeseed.

Why is all this significant? Many know Barber, who also has another well-known restaurant in leafy Westchester County, based on his own farm – Stone Barns at Blue Hill – as a key champion of the farm-to-table movement, favoring locally sourced and produced food.

But now, he’s shifted his approach. In “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food,” Barber argues that the farm-to-table philosophy, while wildly and increasingly popular, is fundamentally flawed, because it’s based on cherry-picking ingredients.

What we need instead, Barber says, is a cuisine based on what the land can provide – nothing more, nothing less. He argues for a nose-to-tail approach, not to one animal, but the entire farm. He recently sat down at Blue Hill with The Associated Press to explain. (The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

AP: For starters, what the heck is “The Third Plate”?

Barber: It’s not a specific plate of food. You could say it’s a metaphor for a way of eating.

AP: Is there a First or Second Plate?

Barber: The First Plate would be that seven-ounce (or eight- or twelve-ounce) steak that becomes the paradigm of everyday dining. It’s protein-centric, with a few veggies to fill in, and maybe refined rice. The Second Plate is actually the same architecture, but you know where your ingredients are coming from a little more – hopefully you got them at the farmer’s market or they’re organic or sourced in a way that connects you to a farm or community. It’s tastier, but it’s not a way to think of our future diets.