To round out our education at the International Culinary Center, we spent the week at Dan Barber’s Stone Barns and Blue Hill, putting our farm-to-table knowledge to work. Here’s an overview of what we experienced on the farm:
We started off the week with introductions to various people on the farm. We also were given lockers so we wouldn’t have to travel back and forth with our knife bags everyday. From Grand Central Station to the Terry Town stop is about an hour train ride, so it was nice not having to worry about lugging around our bags every day. We then went right out to the fields, observing the different veggies they were growing this time of year. It was interesting learning about what foods are in season and what was ready to be harvested. We then walked to one of the greenhouses on the farm, and harvested sugar snap peas. Eating produce right off the vine is a level of delicious that is hard to put into words. I wish everyone could eat naturally raised food directly off the farm and not all that factory-farmed shit (excuse my French). We even got to plant micro pea shoots that would be used in the restaurant once sprouted.
After our visit to the greenhouse, we walked over to where they harvest bees. If you don’t know much about bees, I encourage you to learn more! Let me just tell you, they are incredibly interesting, I was amazed. We even got to put on the white bee suits as we explored the hives. I’m sure we looked a little ridiculous, but it was so much fun. We rounded out the day by meeting Adam Kaye and cooking in the Blue Hill catering kitchen. We learned about unusual grains and were challenged to create a dish using one or more of these grains. I made a spelt and emmer, savory pancake.
Day two was a rainy day on the farm, so we started off the day by meeting one of the farmers named Jack. He discussed some of the farming practices at Stone Barns, including the importance of soil. The better the soil, the better the produce. And the right soil for the right plant makes all the difference. The idea of crop rotation is very much practiced, and it was interesting learning about this aspect of farming. We then learned about the composting that happens on the farm. Stone Barns and Blue Hill are really a full-circle organization, from soil to stomach and back again.
Later in the afternoon we were back in the kitchen, this time with sous chef Mike. The challenge this day was to cook with some fresh produce from the fields, making it the star of our dish. I created a roasted asparagus dish with a lemon vinaigrette. Everyone was really creative with their veggies, and I was more than happy giving everything a taste!
The third day at Stone Barns was probably my favorite day on the farm for a few reasons. To start, we learned about pasture rotation. This is where the farmers move the different live stock on a regular rotation from pasture to pasture to ensure that the soil can be used in the most beneficial way. We got to help out with the pasture rotation for the day by moving the sheep from one area of the field to another. I just wanted to squeeze all of them, they were so cute! The second reason day three was so enjoyable was that we then got to enter the chicken coup and gather eggs from the laying hen’s coup. I unfortunately wore shorts to the farm this day, and the chickens LOVE to peck your ankles, so lets just say I didn’t last in the coup for very long. But it was so much fun gathering the eggs that we later used in the kitchen at Blue Hill.
In the kitchen that day, we broke down an entire lamb (again…full circle, farm-to-table). Every two people got one lamb, and we literally broke it down from head to tail. This was beyond fun for me because I love breaking down meat, especially whole animal butchery. Chef Adam was very impressed by our skills, so much that he kept a lot of the meat for the restaurant. It was awesome knowing that our efforts would be put to great use and actually sold to patrons. Day three was an awesome day and everything I hoped our week at Stone Barns would be.
Day four was chicken slaughter day…a day I was not looking forward to. We actually had the opportunity to participate in slaughtering chickens they raise on the farm. It was very emotional for many of my classmates as most of us had never seen, let alone participated in slaughtering animals before. All in all, I think it’s important to learn about this aspect of farming because it’s reality; chicken doesn’t just come wrapped in plastic like you see at the supermarket. Chickens are living beings we consume on a daily basis, and slaughtering is just a natural part of the process. In the afternoon we learned about charcuterie in the kitchen. We made lamb sausage from the meat we buttered the previous day. The kitchen work was fun on day four, but ultimately this was as enjoyable of a day for me.
Our final day at Stone Barns started out with us venturing out into the field to harvest produce. We were told that we would be cooking family meal that day for 30 staff members at the farm, and we would need to go “shopping” for ingredients on the farm. We also were told that we had to have some influence from what we learned over the course of the week. I decided that I would make a dessert because I saw beautiful strawberries growing in the field. A strawberry tart came to mind, and I quickly decided to make a unique grain tart dough. By 10:00am we were in the kitchen cooking, and we had two hours to produce our dish. Working in a kitchen that you’ve never worked in before is a challenge because you don’t know where anything is. However, the Blue Hill kitchen is stocked full with endless produce and equipment, so it was easy to get right to work. My tarts came out surprisingly well. The dough was flaky and the strawberries couldn’t have been fresher. I would definitely make this recipe for your next dinner party. Even chef Adam Kaye asked me for the recipe to put in the next Blue Hill cook book!
Overall, spending the week at Stone Barns and Blue Hill was a perfect ending to my farm-to-table program at ICC. I’m just ready to dive right into the New York food scene and put my skills to work!