Pig’s Heart Pastrami, Phytoplankton, Pea Shoots: A Weekend at Blue Hill Stone Barns

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A beautiful day at Blue Hill Stone Barns

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On Saturday I staged at Blue Hill Stone Barns. A stage is when you request to work for free for a day (sometimes more) to learn and demonstrate your skill set. It is very common in the culinary industry for students to stage at restaurants to understand how different kitchens operate and to interview for potential job positions.

This past Saturday morning my friend and I were walking into the courtyard at Blue Hill at Stone Barns frantically looking for the kitchen entrance for our first ever stage.  After my Fundamentals class I mustered up the courage to request a stage at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns. We veered into the center of the courtyard, hoping to find someone to direct us.  We looked up to find none other than Dan Barber, himself, approaching us with a stoic, determined look on his face – what are the odds!?  He kindly stopped to shake our hands and introduce himself and then proceeded on his way.  “Did that just happen?” my friend looked at me in shock. “Yes, my life is complete.” I responded.

That might sound a little extreme, however, since I started at the CIA my appreciation for Dan Barber’s work towards sustainable agriculture and responsible eating has increased exponentially.  The concept of Blue Hill at Stone Barns aims to teach people about where their food is coming from. I guarantee, whether you are an avid foodie or not, a trip to Blue Hill will forever alter the way you think about food.

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I had no idea what to expect from my stage.  At school I hear everything from hours of chopping endless mounds of parsley and picking bain maries of thyme to the notorious omelet test on a stage.  While the majority of my prep time included picking herbs and chopping vegetables, I was allowed to participate much more than I expected. I was also encouraged to ask tons of questions and try as many ingredients and dishes as possible.  I tried so many new products from neon green phytoplankton to pig’s heart pastrami. It is typical for them to use the animal offals (usable byproducts) because they have the entire carcass available to them. This is sometime referred to as nose to tail cooking. Utilizing as much as the animal as possible with minimal waste.

Some of my favorite dishes that I tried included: pate with a dark chocolate brittle, sweet potato sage whoopie pies, house cured bresaola (beef loin) chips, squid ink risotto and honey comb chocolate bark. By the time it reached dinner service I was allowed to help plate and assemble dishes on the amuse bouche station.

It was my first experience watching and participating during a service in a high end kitchen – let’s just say I was blown away.  It was terrifying, intimidating and exhilarating all at once.  Dan Barber was present during the entire service, which I was not expecting! He checked every plate before it went out to the customers ensurin g they met his standards!  Some might consider the kitchen at Blue Hill to be a silent kitchen. The only talking during service occurs when Chef Barber or the executive chef calls out an order and the rest of the staff responds with a loud resounding “YES!” Everyone in the kitchen at Blue Hill works remarkably fast and proficient.  They are held to extremely high standards.

I spent the majority of Saturday's service working alongside other CIA students on their externships at the Amuse Bouche station.  Amuse bouches are artfully prepared bite sized hors d'oeurves. They constitute a large portion of Blue Hill's multi-course tasting menu.

I spent the majority of Saturday’s service working alongside other CIA students on their externships at the Amuse Bouche station. Amuse bouches are artfully prepared bite sized hors d’oeurves. They constitute a large portion of Blue Hill’s multi-course tasting menu.  I was not able (or allowed!) to take any photos of the dishes during service.  I borrowed this photo, which represents one of their concepts referred to as the fence. Depending on what is available to them, they meticulously arrange seasoned and pickled vegetables.  They present this to some tables at the beginning of their meals. The majority of the dishes from the amuse bouche station center around raw vegetables and their house-cured meats.

Blue Hill operates without a structured menu.  There dishes are constantly changing, even throughout a dinner service.  Your dinner is completely tailored to your dietary constraints. At the beginning of the meal the waiter will have  a conversation with the table to discuss any allergies and any food phobias/dislikes.  The kitchen then gauges which dishes are best suited for the table. If the table is adventurous for example they will send out their most exotic dishes of the night.

Blue Hill operates without a structured menu. Their dishes are constantly changing, even throughout a dinner service. Your dinner is completely tailored to your dietary constraints and likes. At the beginning of the meal the waiter will have a conversation with the table to discuss any allergies and any food phobias/dislikes. The kitchen then gauges which dishes are best suited for the table. If the table is adventurous, for example, they will send out their most exotic dishes for the night….beef tongue anyone?

I got to take part in their family meal: ice tea, steak, brussels sprouts (not pictured), roasted seasoned potatoes, salad with pickled vegetables and bread pudding for dessert.

I got to take part in their family meal: ice tea, steak, brussels sprouts (not pictured), roasted seasoned potatoes, salad with pickled vegetables and bread pudding for dessert.

I am still in shock by how much I learned from just twelve hours of working at Blue Hill.  I was exposed to ingredients I previously had the opportunity to only read about. IMG_3759

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Prior to staging at Blue Hill, I had never visited the farm – which, I quickly learned was a big mistake! It is a must see for any chef!  The next day I drove back to explore the farm on my own and eat lunch at their cafe.  The overall experience was incredible. Today it is almost expected that restaurants participate in the farm-to-table movement. However, it is extremely rare to find a restaurant that sources all of its produce and livestock from a farm on the same property. Blue Hill defines farm-to-table. I do not know any other location where you can visually see the entire process from farm to fork.  The restaurant does everything possible to utilize and showcase the ingredients and flavors of the current season. Even in the winter they pickle, preserve and cure to best utilize their products.

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Store at Blue Hill Stone Barns

Store at Blue Hill Stone Barns

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Cafe at Blue Hill Stone Barns

Cafe at Blue Hill Stone Barns

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Onion jam, sharp cheddar and mixed greens on focaccia; pickled carrot and radish salad; sparking cranberry juice and a chocolate chip cookie for lunch!

Onion jam, sharp cheddar and mixed greens on focaccia; pickled carrot and radish salad; sparking cranberry juice and a chocolate chip cookie for lunch!

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Greenhouses

Greenhouses

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IMG_3449I highly recomend the trip to Blue HIll Stone Barns.  You will without question gain a greater appreciation for what goes into your food.

Stay posted for more updates on life at the CIA!