Chef’s Table With Dan Barber: A Sustainable Food Systems Film Review

This episode of Chef’s Table (found on Netflix) discussed the idea of cooking in the world that we live in today through the lens of Dan Barber, the head chef of the Blue Hill Restaurants in Hudson Valley, New York (Stone Hill Farm) and in New York City. Dan is described as the ‘modern chef’ of our day and age and he thinks about not only how to feed his customers, but what experience they have when they come to his restaurant and what impact the food they eat there has on the rest of their life. Dan sees food from not only an artistic culinary view, but also through an ethical and biological view, asking: what is the responsibility we are supposed to have with the food we consume and how are we supposed to use the Earth?

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What I loved about this film was the creativity exposed, which almost leaves a feeling of hope for the future of food. For example, in the early stages of the documentary, the chef talked about asparagus season at his restaurant, and how he somehow over-purchased asparagus to a point where he put the vegetable in everything from soup to ice-cream, and how his restaurant was viewed as one of the best in New York because if it. Another noteworthy moment was when Dan talked about how he started conducting a symbiotic relationship on the farm he inherited from his grandfather. On Blue Hill Farm, chickens, cows, pigs, and goats, all not only support the soil and thus the growth of the food, but the flavor of the food and the experience his customers have. One example of the system set in place at this farm was crop rotations where crops whose byproduct benefits the growth of the plant who will occupy that plot of land next season. On this farm he pushes for foods that were never created before such as red pepper eggs and squash with a more concentrated flavor. Along with this innovation, I also respect the perspective. Dan’s interview shows the life of a chef is nowhere near perfect: it’s time consuming, it’s stressful, and you feel that you are on the brink of failure every night. Coming from a background of 5 years in the restaurant service in an environment much like Dan’s restaurant, I can relate to his experience.

Continuing my critique, the film was very focused on the ideas of this one chef and didn’t touch on the effectiveness of his work on a larger scale than just his local community. Will this one chef change how people eat in Africa? Dan has big ideas, but doesn't seem to utilize them on quite the same scale. The film gives a new meaning to the power of a chef, but there wasn’t as much of a connection to community at the Blue Hill Farm, it focused more on engineering the food and create a new monumental view of the food we eat. Though students from surrounding colleges can go to Blue Hill Farm for educational purposes with an emphasis on sustainable agriculture. Dan touched on how his food could raise the bar for food quality in the entire world if more people were inspired to make food like him, talking about how when people eat his food, there should be more of a thought process. Looking up his menu for the New York City restaurant, you can either have a “Farmer’s Feast” for $108 or a “Daily Menu” for $98 where you get to taste various dishes throughout the night separated by different courses. At his Stone Hill restaurant, the menu is $258 per guest exclusive of beverage and tax and unconventional pairings are $168. Shouldn't people in the lower class be a part of the equation since the world will only change positively if everyone is included, not just those who have the money? Although these dining locations are meant to be elegant dining, don’t you think that someone who wants to redefine everyday eating would want to give his food experience to all? Perhaps he should  include a farmers market educational stand where you can sample some of the genetically modified food and show of some pictures of the restaurant? Has he thought about making his food more affordable to the masses?

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The first question that is presented to the viewers is: Is cooking worth the hardship? I believe that because of the limited view of one chef, you can’t entirely answer this question. This is a man whose expertise is feeding high class New Yorkers and exposing them to locality and knowledge about their food before eating it. But what about a food truck owner, a McDonald's burger flipper, or a family making dinner together? He says he wants to change the world but if he doesn't relate to these aspects of the world, how can he ever change it? There is no knowledge of his staff moving on to creating their own farm to table restaurants, customers who invest in sustainable agriculture, or an educational outreach to those who are underprivileged thus inspiring them to work on sustainable farms. Although there are creative ideas discussed, I am not convinced that this man was worth interviewing or, maybe just that this documentary portrays his work holistically. Watching this film reminded me of the fact that our environmental issues are also social justice issues, so when we are trying to find solutions we cannot forget those who may not lead lives as easy as ours.


Posted by Jacquelyn Nutter on Nov 5, 2018 2:09 PM America/Chicago


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