Back of the House

Dan Barber Loosens His Apron at Monkey Bar

Dan Barber (center) with <em>Food Inc.</em> producers Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser
Dan Barber (center) with Food Inc. producers Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser Photo: Amanda Schwab/Starpix

Blue Hill’s Dan Barber and his wife were at Monkey Bar last night to celebrate Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc. with Martha Stewart. The chef, who spoke at Davos last month, took a break from serious talk of food politics and agribusiness. After sending his wife to the bar — “I need to get sauced,” he said — we talked about salt, Lent, and TV cooks.

Lent starts tomorrow, what are you giving up?
You are asking an Upper East Side Jew. What are you even supposed to give up on Lent? Lent is you give up fish, right? [Ed. note: Nope.]

The other question is about the Bloomberg’s salt jihad …
Nice dude, “jihad.”

As someone in the industry, are you offended by it?
The salt thing, I don’t know what to say. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? I don’t know.

You’re answering a question with a question?
I’m like the Oracle of Delphi. I feel like the intentions are good. Do I feel like it’s a smart thing? I don’t know. How’s that for ambivalence? I feel like there are other things to go after. Do you know what Ducasse said when he was asked by Charlie Rose what his ideal meal was? He said, “A piece of fish — he said this in French, so it was much more poetic — sans sel san poivre without salt or pepper.” Because it would be so fresh it wouldn’t need salt and pepper.

Imagine if Bloomberg tried to retell that parable in French.
He’d never get a fourth term, man.

What are America’s chances for the Bocuse d’Or?
I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t end up doing much better, which isn’t saying a lot. The thing that people don’t understand is that countries like Norway make it into a day of celebration for the country. What people don’t understand is that over years, it becomes part of the culture. We’ll get there at some point, but it’s not a reflection on the quality of food in America.

What’s your take on all the competitive-cooking shows on television? Is it good or bad for cooking?
The question is whether competitive-cooking shows make us better cooks. It’s a little like saying that sitting at home and watching football makes you a better football player.

I used to watch the Food Network obsessively when I was a line cook and I’d get home at 2 in the morning. The shows were fucking amazing. Sissy Biggers was the shit and Alan Richman had a show back then with some supermodel. [Ed. note: It was Nina Griscom.] Sissy had a show where chefs would compete with other chefs. It was the precursor of Iron Chef, but it was done in a very subdued way. And then this was pre-Ming Tsai. This was Batali when he first did his show. I used to watch from 2 to 4. Now I literally don’t know anyone who is on.

Do you watch any shows?
I do Mad Men. Who doesn’t want to be 30 in the sixties?

Dan Barber Loosens His Apron at Monkey Bar