Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which ex-Eater critic Bill Addison once called the country’s best restaurant, will become a very different place to eat when it reopens for full dinner service in 2021. Barber announced the changes in a letter to his staff on Sunday night, explaining that the institution would pivot to a rotating guest chef format. The chef also pledged to help combat “racial and gender inequities” in the kitchen.
Barber will step away from the kitchen, a development he later confirmed in a telephone interview. A typical pre-pandemic meal at Stone Barns under Barber often stretched past 25-courses and could last over six-hours.
The New York City location of Blue Hill will not initially reopen for dine in service. Both locations will drop the use of the Blue Hill name for the duration of 2021. The news was first published by the New York Times.
The two Michelin-starred Stone Barns, located north of Manhattan on a sprawling agriculture center in Pocantico Hills, will continue with outdoor picnic dining throughout the fall. The goal of the culinary residency program, set to debut next year, will be to ”support a rotating, diverse set of chefs’ voices that interpret the farm and the region through their own cuisines and experiences,” per Barber’s letter.
Barber’s pivot marks the latest big change to two major restaurants as the hospitality industry continues to grapple with the pandemic, which has shuttered scores of establishments and left nearly 200,000 local food service workers without a job. Barber had been contemplating switching to the guest chef format, but the virus helped expedite those plans.
The pandemic has engendered greater societal concern for the financial and physical well-being of hospitality workers, many of whom have died from COVID-19 infections. The fallout of the virus has also attracted attention to longstanding structural racism in restaurants, which can range from pay disparities to inequalities over who gets credit for the creating, crafting, and daily production of a particular dish.
“There has been a reckoning in our industry, and we’ve heard and discussed many pointed, structural questions about the system that we uphold, especially about racial and gender inequities,” Barber wrote in his letter.
He went on:
Becoming truly conscious of how I’ve both benefited from and contributed to that system is a process that is long overdue. And I know that this recognition means little unless I actually put it to use through concrete actions. I’m learning about structural changes that we need to make in order to ensure that at the heart of all of our future work we build a community and a culture that are supportive, equitable and diverse.
The ongoing reckoning in professional kitchens and food media — including at Sqirl and Bon Appetit — has largely been led by BIPOC staffers who have been calling out their current or former bosses (or peers) for perpetuating these historic inequalities.
Barber wrote that he believes the residency program is “one critical step in this direction.”
Northern California chef Preeti Mistry criticized Stone Barns during an Eater SF interview last month for a lack of diversity at the leadership level. “It’s not until you pore through their website into their public programs that you start to see a person of color or two in the photo,” Mistry said.
In that same July interview, Mistry also spoke about their “personal dream” of having BIPOC chefs prepare non-European cuisines on a small, organic farm, emphasizing that such a venue would not be a fine dining establishment, and “not accessible only to the super-wealthy.” The chef had previously written about that concept in June during a series of tweets where they criticized the European-centric nature of farm-based restaurants, and issued a call for funding. Mistry also called out Barber earlier today for not acknowledging their chef residency plan.
Eater has reached out to Barber for a response to Mistry’s comments.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, by any reasonable yardstick, is a fine dining establishment, and an expensive one at that. It has been one of the country’s toughest reservations since it opened in 2004. It initially served shorter menus, but eventually switched to a single tasting format. As of last year, dinner was priced at $278, about on par with the city’s most expensive restaurants. A wine-paired dinner for two could easily scratch at $1,000.
Barber couldn’t say in a phone interview what new dinner format would be or what it might cost. He won’t be cooking during the day, nor will he be part of evening dinner service. Instead, he’ll focus his attention on getting the residency program. As for the resident chefs: “The kitchen and the cuisine will be theirs,” Barber wrote in his letter.
The New York City location of Blue Hill will focus on the assembly and sale of the elegant and expensive food boxes that the restaurants have been offering during the pandemic.
Barber wrote in his letter that day-to-day culinary teams will remain in the “best hands imaginable.” Those individuals are Bastien Guillochon, Nick Hukezalie, Joel De La Cruz, Cameron Ingle, Emily Gonzalez, Manuel Zhicay, Heriberto Munoz, Timothy Moreno, and Alekzandra Zito.
This story has been updated to reflect chef Preeti Mistry’s comments