The third plate Field notes on the future of food

Dan Barber, 1969-

Book - 2014

"Renowned chef Dan Barber introduces a new kind of cuisine that represents the future of American dining in THE THIRD PLATE. Barber explores the evolution of American food from the "first plate," or industrially-produced, meat-heavy dishes, to the "second plate" of grass-fed meat and organic greens, and says that both of these approaches are ultimately neither sustainable nor healthy. Instead, Barber proposes Americans should move to the "third plate," a cuisin...e rooted in seasonal productivity, natural livestock rhythms, whole-grains, and small portions of free-range meat. Barber's book charts a bright path for eaters and chefs alike towards a healthy and sustainable future for American cuisine"--

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New York : The Penguin Press 2014.
Physical Description
486 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Dan Barber, 1969- (-)
  • Soil
  • Land
  • Sea
  • Seed.
Review by New York Times Review

TO START A FOOD TREND from agriculture is "one of the riskiest" things an entrepreneur can do, David Sax writes in "The Tastemakers," his entertaining new excursion into, as his subtitle has it, "Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up With Fondue." "Yet every day," he adds, "there are countless farmers, scientists and gardening dreamers with a trowel in their hand, digging in the dirt and planting the seed that they hope will one day change the way we eat." Sax could well be describing Dan Barber, the nationally prominent chef whose Blue Hill restaurants, one in Greenwich Village and the other in Westchester County, have knit farming practices into daily menus in a way few other high-profile farm-to-table restaurants have been able to manage. In articles, TED talks and at conferences, Barber has established himself as one of the food world's leading voices on how farm practices influence flavor. And now he establishes himself as one of the food world's leading writers. "The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food" is a combination travel diary, history of farm practice, statement of agricultural and culinary philosophy, and frank, opinionated chef memoir. It also presents a good picture of where what's loosely called "the food movement" is now, and where it might fruitfully be taken in years to come. In his introduction, Barber describes an exercise in which, at the request of a food magazine marking its 35th anniversary, he was asked to imagine the way we'll be eating 35 years from now. If 35 years ago our dining - in what he calls the "first plate" - was meat-centric, he decides that what we're eating now, the "second plate," is vegetableand farm-centric. But what will that future "third plate" look and taste like? Despite the opaque title, Barber's book is really a chronicle of experiments in how to change flavor through planting and harvesting techniques - and only then through cooking. Barber is endlessly in-your-face inquisitive, always looking for something more delicious. And he's generally dissatisfied. (Like pretty much anyone who writes and thinks about food, I've spent hours listening to - and arguing - with him.) The seed Barber hopes will change the way people eat is a cross of wheat varieties that will grow well in the Northeast and offer the kind of flavor long lost to industrialized farming and milling. He comes to see this need in the kitchen of Mary-Howell and Klaas Martens, two farmers in upstate New York whose abandonment of conventional farming and subsequent ability to raise superbly flavorful organic food inspire many of his travels and practices. One day Mary-Howell serves him a rhubarb cake made with whole wheat flour she milled that morning, in which "each bite of cake brought a whiff of wheat, ... and it made a prosaic dessert richly textured and interesting." Barber decides he wants his own wheat, and his search for the right new-old cross frames the rest of his book. Before we can see or taste Barber wheat, though, we follow him on visits to growers, scientists and chefs across the country, and especially across the Atlantic, where his friend and muse, the journalist Lisa Abend (the author of "The Sorcerer's Apprentices," a wickedly well-observed account of a year in the kitchens of Ferran Adrià's El Bulli), leads him to Spanish farmers and cooks whose relationship with the high plains of Extremadura Barber hopes to replicate in New York. Barber has an ear for dialogue and an eye for people's quirks, as well as a quality not always apparent in the heat of the kitchen - a sense of humor about his own impatience and bluntness, which he excuses as a chef's necessary trait. He also reveals an easy erudition, dropping in a reference to Balzac's hand trembling "with pleasure on seeing a pyramid of pears or beautiful peaches" and frequently quoting founding fathers of the organic movement like Rudolf Steiner, William Albrecht and Aldo Leopold. In addition, he introduces his readers to the voices of today's heroes: Joan Dye Gussow, Wes Jackson, Eliot Coleman and Wendell Berry. Since Barber thinks like a chef who wants to keep a jump ahead of his rivals, we also get some inside-chef gossip, like the story of the hot-tempered Frenchman Michel Rostang, brought to bay during a screaming outburst by the appearance of a perfect leg of jamón Ibérico, which he strokes as if it were a newborn. The last section of Barber's book, "Seed," is the most valuable, and gets us back to that wheat. Here he writes about teaching himself the scientific background and gives us easy-to-grasp descriptions of conventional breeding techniques. He writes about growing vegetables and grains for their flavor and utility to cooks as well as for hardiness, and he puts to rest some foodie myths, like the one that only old varieties actually taste good. Heirloom food may be what we think of as the gold standard, grown before the era of industrial farming, but heirlooms are frozen in time and thus frequently unsuited to current soil and climate conditions. The logical next step, in Barber's view, is to change our definition of farm-to-table cooking to mean bringing the whole farm to the table - not just blood pudding and scrapple but the weeds, bones and other byproducts that are the equivalent of a fisherman's bycatch. He ends with a fanciful menu that includes only foods that could be produced on the farm he dreams his own will become, with dishes like milky oat tea, "single udder butter," trout he'll raise and serve with a phytoplankton sauce inspired by one he had at Aponiente, a restaurant on the southern Iberian Peninsula, and a main course of grilled overwintered parsnip steaks with poached marrow and a Bordelaise sauce made with bones. Everything, including beer made from malted Stone Barns barley and wheat, will be part of this "interrelated" farm and growing system. And so, of course, will be the whole wheat brioche like the one his pastry chef has perfected using wheat from the Martens farm. This time the freshly milled flour will be from a cross of a Spanish wheat unearthed by Lisa Abend and a wheat suited to New York state - Barber wheat. By the end of "The Third Plate," Barber recognizes that "my hope that Barber wheat would become the most desired in the world suddenly felt naïve." No such humility troubles most of the dreamers and entrepreneurs in "The Tastemakers," David Sax's romp through the world of chefs, farmers, bloggers, market researchers, television producers and advertisers who drive us to want, need, crave and murderously desire something like a Cronut. After, that is, we've had our fill of cupcakes, which apparently we never will. Sax documents the rise and rise of cupcakes in an opening chapter that traces their evolution - or, perhaps better, devolution - from bit player in a scene in "Sex and the City" to starring role in blogs and cookbooks to object of bakery wars and fixture of national chains to international phenomenon, discussed, Sax is startled to hear, on the streets of Asunción, Paraguay. The cupcake chapter, which Sax uses as a reference point for the other trends he documents, illustrates the strengths and flaws of his book: It's terrifically entertaining, draws on a wide range of characters (most of them self-promoting in the grand American tradition), quotes a variety of people on how and why certain trends took hold and doesn't spend much time sorting through all this information to see which theories might be the most plausible. If victory has a thousand fathers, Sax believes a few too many of them. A Los Angeles chef named Sang Yoon is allowed, with little contradiction, to take credit for the gourmet hamburger and the gastro pub. Frieda Caplan, the popularizer of the kiwi, is also seen as making the country safe for hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales of brown (versus white) mushrooms. Faith Popcorn, the trend forecaster who practically invented self-promotion, is implicitly given credit for telling Coca-Cola in 1981 to get into bottled water. There's very likely some truth in all these claims, but a few more caveats would have been in order. As would more fact-checking: Little glitches like the implication that epicures in the late 1950s and '60s were called "foodies," a term that came into currency only in the wake of the 1980 "Official Preppy Handbook," make you wonder about other points of accuracy. But these are the hazards of any book of nonfiction in an age of self-service journalism. Sax has seized on a big, juicy topic, and is at his best in on-the-scene reporting, where the brisk, funny, assured voice that earned him many fans for his previous book, "Save the Deli" (which I excerpted for The Atlantic's website), keeps us galloping through the aisles of the gigantic annual Fancy Food Show as he trails a head buyer for Whole Foods, who rightly calls herself the J. Lo of the event. Or through the fields of South Carolina and restaurants of Charleston as he draws a portrait of Glenn Roberts, the founder of Anson Mills (and also a guide to Barber). No matter whom he's describing, Sax is great company, a writer of real and lasting charm. And he's capable of some nice social observation: A chapter on the rise and fall of fondue takes us to Florida, where the original Swiss promoters still try, and fail, to make fondue for the kind of swinging parties that originally helped this fad catch on (confronted with a bowl of melted chocolate, guests pick at the fruit because, of course, they're all on diets), and he's convincingly able to root the rise of fondue in the sexual revolution and the beginnings of what Faith Popcorn would later label cocooning. At the end, Sax surprised me by defending food trends as good for the economy and moving American food forward - a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion just after he's ably skewered the instantaneous rise of Cronuts. "The Tastemakers" will leave readers wondering about how susceptible we are to the charms of any new food - and how long we're likely to stay captivated. Will parsnip steaks and 'single udder butter' be among the foods of the future? CORBY KUMMER, a senior editor of The Atlantic, is the author of "The Pleasures of Slow Food" and "The Joy of Coffee."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [June 15, 2014] Review by Booklist Review

A groundbreaking chef at one of Manhattan's first farm-to-table restaurants, Barber shares his vision of good food's future. Cooking per se doesn't constitute this chef's passion. He cares about where foods come from, how they're grown, and whether they can be harvested into the future. To learn about soil's role, he visits an organic farm in upstate New York, where an insightful, dedicated farmer diversifies crops and grows for quality and not solely for quantity. A Spanish farmer teaches Barber about producing foie gras without force-feeding. He investigates fisheries. All this leaves Barber with some innovative ideas about how people ought to be eating a third plate of grains, vegetables, and some meat or fish, all grown with ecological awareness and commitment to sustainability. Such a change from current ideas about dining fast and cheap calls for retraining the public palate away from blandness and uniformity and encouraging eaters to demand unique and distinctive flavors.--Knoblauch, Mark Copyright 2014 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The chef of the trailblazing farm-to-table restaurant Blue Hill at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, in Pocantico Hills, New York, Barber is also a journalist crusading to help change the culture of American cooking. Blue Hill was the name of his family farm in Massachusetts, informing his early impressions while growing up, and in this multilayered work he aims to address the intrinsics of where food comes from-that is, from "soil," "land," "sea," "seed," as he divides his chapters. Barber harkens back to the stringent "land ethic" advocated by the American environmentalist Aldo Moro. There was no golden age of American agriculture, Barber asserts, because taming the land both North and South grew into an "exploitative relationship," involving higher and higher yields and less vigilance to healthy soil management-climaxing horrendously during the so-called dirty '30s. The value of establishing a viable interconnectedness between technology and ecology ensures that organic farmers are the heroes of this work, people like specialty-grains purveyor Glenn Roberts, who encouraged the author to plant a marvelous ancient Native American corn, Eight Row Flint, that had been farmed to near exhaustion in the early 19th century; New York state planters Klaus and Mary-Howell Martens, who had to cease using pesticides because Klaus was literally being paralyzed, and rediscovered the civilizing and sociable wonders of growing wheat; and a Spanish geese raiser, Eduardo Sousa, who produces foie gras without force feeding. Barber's work is a deeply thoughtful and-offering a "menu for 2050"-even visionary work for a sustainable food chain. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Executive chef of farm-to-table restaurants Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Barber is known for championing sustainability and making responsible decisions about food sourcing. In this revolutionary book, he blows up the idea that locavorism and organic farming are the best ways to ensure the availability of good food for everyone. Dividing his thoughts into sections relating to "Soil," "Land," "Sea," and "Seed," Barber shares the results of his years of investigating integrated food systems, taking listeners to Spain and Washington State and along the Atlantic Coast to visit food producers whose work supports long-term sustainability. With the author narrating, listeners feel as though they are having a conversation with him: one that is groundbreaking, frightening, and hopeful all at once. VERDICT This work challenges listeners to rethink both taste and sustainability with the knowledge that better options are out there and stands next to The Omnivore's Dilemma as an essential book about food.-Donna -Bachowski, Orange Cty. Lib. Syst., Orlando, FL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A multiple James Beard Award-winning chef proposes a revolutionary change for growing and consuming food.Moving beyond the organic farming and farm-to-table movements, Blue Hill executive chef Barber argues for the importance of the whole farm: an integrated, biodynamic system that sustains the richness and diversity of land and sea. American agriculturewith its large farm holdings, monoculture and unwieldy machineryoften leads to farmers' lack of intimacy with the land. "It's that lack of intimacy," writes the author, "that leads to ignorance, and eventually to loss." What is lost is taste and nutritional quality. Visiting small American and European farms, Barber learned the importance of nurturing soil that contains "a thriving, complex community of organisms." A carrot grown in earth that contains diverse phytonutrients tastes entirely different from one subject to insecticides and fungicides. Even farms that do not use chemical controlsthe so-called "industrial organic" farmsmay grow plants in nutrient-poor sandy soil, enriched by organic fertilizer. Barber interweaves food history, conversations with experts in food preparation, production and nutrition, and colorful anecdotes from his travels to farms, restaurants and markets. He tracked down Spaniard Eduardo Sousa, who raises geese for foie gras by allowing them to graze freely on acorns, getting fatter as they do naturally to prepare for migration. Rather than force-feeding, giving geese what they want, Sousa believes, results in exceptional foie gras. "When we allow nature to work, which means when we farm in a way that promotes all of its frustrating inefficiencieswhen we grow nature," Barber writes, what we harvest is both abundant and flavorful. The same principles that apply to soil are relevant to the sea, as well; agriculture and aquaculture are not separate entities. Barber's menu for 2050 features baby oat tea; blue wheat brioche; pigs' blood sausage; trout in phytoplankton sauce; and beer ice cream.In this bold and impassioned analysis, Barber insists that chefs have the power to transform American cuisine to achieve a sustainable and nutritious future. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.