the new york diet

Dan Barber Eats Steak With Michelle Obama, Sneaks Asparagus Into Burritos

Dan Barber, photographed through the window of his office at Blue Hill NYC.

Dan Barber, photographed through the window of his office at Blue Hill NYC.Photo: Melissa Hom

This week, Dan Barber made the Time 100, took home a National James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef of the year, championed sustainability at the Brooklyn Food Conference, and still found time to cook at both Blue Hill locations. In a cheeky recap of last season’s Top Chef at Stone Barns, Adam Platt called Barber a “high priest of locavorism.” But does the chef of the hour eat as purely as he preaches? See what’s worth an indulgence in the New York Diet.

Saturday, May 2
I have the same thing for breakfast: My girlfriend [writer Aria Sloss] makes me this shake, like a power shake. It’s awesome. I don’t know what the hell’s in it, though. She won’t tell me. It used to be soy milk, but I wasn’t too jazzed, so now it’s almond milk. I know there are bananas in it. My secret theory — I don’t know if I want you to print this — is that when she feels really loving towards me I get an extra banana or two in the shake; it’s so unbelievable. And when she’s a little pissed at me, it’s a little icy and really thin.

Saturday morning I gave a talk in Brooklyn. I didn’t really have lunch. I got up to Stone Barns, and boy did I need a coffee. Alberto in the Blue Hill café here makes me this triple-shot thing; it’s good cold or hot. I never know whether to get hot or cold this time of year so I found this website that tells me what to do. Unbelievable game-changer. Love it.

I’ve been snacking on these health bars. It’s going to come off like she really takes care of me, but my girlfriend contacted this company and made a health bar for me with her own recipe. She called them “Go Danny, Go” bars. They send you boxes. It’s nuts and dried fruit. Delicious. No sugar — well, natural sugar.

For family meal around 4:30 I usually have salad, just greens with a lot of vinegar. I don’t like to be weighed down before service because I end up eating quite a bit. I taste everything in the kitchen. Sometimes I work a station or expedite but more often than not I’m chasing after the latest wave and trying to put out fires. I move around a lot, so I’m burning a lot of calories. If you interview me in twenty years and I’m still eating like this, I would imagine I’d be much bigger. I also run in the morning and then have the shake.

Before the ride home, I reach for sweets, like handfuls of petits fours or café cookies or some junk-sugar stuff. It’s kind of an embarrassing habit. I start munching on the way home. Then I crash halfway down to the restaurant in the city. I’m usually taking stuff down from the farm to the city after service, so I’m there most every night to wrap things up.

Sunday, May 3
Shake.

I went to Stone Barns for lunch service. I started tasting again so I had nothing else.

There wasn’t much of a break between lunch and dinner. It ends at 10. Sundays are tough. We don’t have menus at Stone Barns. I taste a lot in New York, too, but not with the obsessiveness that I do here. We always have a list of dishes that we’re ready to make and serve. We have another list of dishes we’re working on. There’s a whole other set of dishes that come from the moment, the crush of tickets, way off the cuff. Asparagus hit last week and they’re almost on every dish. If you don’t like asparagus, you’re probably not going to love Stone Barns this week.

Monday, May 4
Shake.

I went to the restaurant in New York and brought in a burrito from Chipotle late morning. I stuffed asparagus from the night before into the beans and rice burrito.

Then I asked a new cook on garde manger to make me some asparagus to taste. He cooked the asparagus perfectly, they were seasoned perfectly, plated beautifully. I was like, this guy’s going to be a good cook.

I went home, changed, and went to the Beard Awards. I love tastings, but I didn’t get over to any tables, unfortunately; it was really crowded.

After the awards, I went to Bar Boulud and I was really starving. I was drinking Champagne. The charcuterie, cheeses, and bread, oh my God, spectacular. I’m a pretty big charcuterie guy. I couldn’t stop eating it. [Will you attempt to make foie gras at Stone Barns with ethically raised geese like the Spanish ones you lecture about?] We are doing our own foie gras. The chicks just hatched and Eduardo [Sousa] is coming. If it works, it will happen sometime late fall.

And then after Bar Boulud, I went to a party at Blue Hill NYC and had some snacks in the kitchen. I had chicken salad. The cooks just put it together. Who knew chicken salad could be so good?

Tuesday, May 5
Shake. Tuesday morning I remember it being especially delicious. It was pretty memorable.

I went to the New York restaurant. I definitely had the garde-manger guy make me more asparagus, and I nibbled on prep stuff.

I have a joke. I guess I have to tell you I went to the Time 100 gala? I knew Michelle [Obama] was going to be there, so I ate especially light so I’d look fit. I wouldn’t call us pals, no, but she was great.

I didn’t have to do a thing at the event. It was so nice. I started with a glass of Champagne, chatted with Obama’s speechwriter. I asked him about rhythm in his writing. I feel like Obama’s speeches are so lyrical. The speechwriter brought his mother as a date, and she was so psyched about the question. He used to be a musician.

It was a sit-down dinner. I had a tomato salad to start and some kind of beef thing to end. I end up eating a tremendous amount of meat while tasting at Stone Barns, so when I’m not at the restaurant, meat’s not the first thing I’m going for. It was nice to be served food. I felt so civilized. They had the dessert buffet table; that’s dangerous for me, but I didn’t gorge like I normally do, because I wasn’t cooking. I had just been relaxing for three hours.

I stopped by the restaurant for a second and then went home.

Wednesday, May 6
Wednesday morning, I went to Mickey D’s for breakfast sausage. Nah, I’m just kidding. I had the shake.

I came in to Stone Barns, and Adam Kaye, the guy who makes our charcuterie, gave me a few things to taste. Fennel sausage. It was delicious. There’s nothing like pork first thing in the morning.

I went from station to station and I wrote a note about it and I just realized that the food I ate spelled Obama: Osaka lettuce, Bloomsdale spinach, asparagus, morel mushrooms, and Acuri garlic, grown on the farm. By accident, I had all those things. Was it coincidence or was it deliberate?

Wednesday night, I went to service in New York. I had Alberto make me my coffee for the ride down from Stone Barns. If Alberto demanded to move to the city, we might keep him employed by opening another café. We have no plans, though.

I ended up having family meal in New York because I was starving. I had some white rice, asparagus, and salad, really plain stuff. I love asparagus. Right now my favorite dish is this almond and saffron sauce with warm, braised asparagus.

My pastry chef down there, Joel De La Cruz, is making this incredible brioche that has almost no flour. It’s as light, literally, as air. I cannot stop eating it. We’re still playing around with it, but last night a chef from Cleveland came in, so I made this asparagus salad and I toasted that bread — it turns golden brown in like ten seconds — and tore it apart to make bread crumbs and an asparagus panzanella salad. That was sort of the reference.

Thursday, May 7
Shake.

This morning, Soyoung Scanlan, this cheesemaker in Napa, sent me her version of Reblochon, a French cheese from the Alps. It’s my favorite cheese. She’s been playing around with it for the last six months. She’s a perfectionist in every sense. One of the guys here opened it in the morning and it was still cold, so I waited, and waited, and waited, and finally dug into it. I’m looking at it right now and it’s like 98 percent eaten. You know how you leave a little on the plate? The sous-chef who opened it wanted to try it and came by later and three quarters was gone and I was like, “oh, I gave a bite to … ” I just made up who I gave it away to. So I’ve basically only eaten cheese today. It brought me back to being in France when I was a young cook and first introduced to it. It’s amazing how food and memory is so closely tied. All day I’ve been smelling my youth.

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