Encounters of a culinary type
Stephanie Curtis / November 12th, 2012
Dan Barber, New York-based chef/owner of two Blue Hill restaurants, came to Paris in October to share his concept of “intensely local” cooking over a lunch concocted for a select group of Parisian food writers and personalities at the Plaza Athénée. It was the third in a series of “essential encounters” orchestrated by the Plaza’s chef, Alain Ducasse, to showcase guest chefs from around the planet who defend a certain vision of contemporary cuisine.
Barber’s menu was in total synchronization with Ducasse’s philosophy based on terroir, sustainability and exalting the natural flavors of foods rather than masking them with sophisticated tactics. The meal featured the products of Barber’s Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in upstate New York, starting with hazelnut celtuce, slim green spears on a mound of Stone Barn yogurt with mountain magic tomatoes, followed by a toasted brioche made from aragon X LP3 wheat accompanied by a spinach marmalade.
Aside from Barber himself, the real star of the lunch was the imposing head of a cross-abaw pig roasted over carbonized pig bones, displayed regally on a trolley in the center of the sleekly chic dining room before the presentation of a “tour de pig” plate, the main course accompanied by smoked green wheat, chicken mushrooms, and Barber’s mini butternut-like 502 squash.
The lunch was, for Ducasse, “the opportunity to show the disarming simplicity of a cuisine that resides, above all, on the quality of products…on authentic taste, and nothing more.”
It was also the opportunity to recall another encounter—the first meeting between Barber and Ducasse in 1993 on the steps of Monaco’s Hôtel de Paris, whose kitchens were then, as now, headed by Ducasse. Barber relates this visit in the preface of Ducasse’s newly released book J’aime New York, telling how he, a 24 year old apprentice in Paris at the time, waited like a fan to greet his idol, remembering the moment “like a scene out of a movie that remains engraved in your mind, not only because I had just finished a meal that I knew would define my life, but also because for me, a young and miserable commis from America, Ducasse was like a movie star.”
Before leaving France, Barber created a buzz, delighting the French press by stating that the ban on the production and sale of foie gras in California was “a bad idea that would certainly have no effect.”