Dan and David Barber aren’t the kind of guys you invite to entertain guests at dinner. They’re the people you’re hoping to get an invitation from. Their restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, where the brothers are cofounders and owners (and where Dan serves as executive chef), is a groundbreaking expression of what farm-to-table cuisine can be. But it’s not their place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list that makes them ideal hosts. It’s a deep, personal connection to what they do that’s so fascinating.
Stone Barns is, at its core, a family business (David’s wife, Laureen, is a co-owner, as well as design director) that began when Dan and David spent childhood summers working on their grandmother’s farm (the restaurant’s namesake) in the Berkshires. “I loved the days I spent working at Blue Hill Farm as a kid,” says David. “The farm underwent great change in the late ’70s, and I was just old enough to sense the significance.”
It’s been the jumping-off point for Dan, as well. “Our grandmother was not a great cook, but she was passionate about the Berkshires, and she taught us how necessary farming was to preserve those iconic pastures,” he recollects. Today, that influence permeates every part of the Stone Barns experience, from the seasonal dishes coming out of the kitchen to the full-scale farming program to the educational initiatives that teach the same values Dan and David learned at Blue Hill Farm as children. “My hope,” says Dan, “is that when people eat here, they see the connection between the ingredients and the landscape, a kind of recipe that begins in the field and pastures.”
Even the Pocantico Hills property that houses the restaurant was a family endeavor: It had been the Rockefeller family dairy farm until the Barbers opened the restaurant in 2004. Today, their grandmother’s farm is flourishing, and much of what’s grown there ends up on diners’ plates at Blue Hill. “Being connected intimately to it in my 50s is a great privilege,” says David, “especially on days when I find a moment to think like a farmer.”