The dish Dan Bar­ber holds most dear? Good ol’ scram­bled eggs

His pro­gres­sive views on sus­tain­able eat­ing have made him a hero in the culi­nary world. Here, the chef and co-owner of New York’s Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns re­flects on the dishes that have shaped his life.

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The first rev­e­la­tory dish I ever had was a plate of scram­bled eggs. I was about 12 and had a hor­ri­ble bout of strep throat. I was home from school so my Aunt Tobé came over to look af­ter me. Un­like my fa­ther, who could barely make toast, she was a won­der­ful cook. The last thing I wanted to do was eat but she in­sisted on mak­ing me scram­bled eggs. Un­til then, the only eggs I’d eaten were my dad’s – his go-to dish af­ter my mom died [eight years ear­lier]. My dad did the best he could with cook­ing but those eggs were tough to stom­ach – made with mar­garine, no salt and cooked to the point of no re­turn.

When my aunt sug­gested she scram­ble some eggs, I en­vi­sioned a spoon­ful of saw­dust com­ing my way. But I’ll never for­get watch­ing her make them, whisk­ing over a dou­ble boiler and fin­ish­ing with French but­ter and tons of herbs. They were un­be­liev­ably soft and de­li­cious. In that mo­ment, they brought me back to life. Look­ing back, I re­alise I couldn’t have had one with­out the other: my dad’s eggs made me ap­pre­ci­ate my aunt’s.

Years later, I was work­ing in Paris as a line cook. That was a whole other type of mis­er­able. To this day, I don’t think there is any greater train­ing for a chef than cook­ing in a French kitchen; there’s a cer­tain dis­ci­pline you won’t find any­where else. I was 24 and had spent the year get­ting the life beaten out of me as a lowly line cook. My only glim­mer of hope was that, at the end of my em­ploy­ment, I was go­ing to make a pil­grim­age south to eat at Alain Du­casse’s restau­rant, Le Louis XV, in Monaco. I saved just enough money for the TGV [high-speed train], one night at a youth hos­tel and this meal.

I dined alone at a cor­ner ta­ble and my lunch lasted four hours. I still re­mem­ber the taste of the pea soup – an ode to a spe­cial pea of the re­gion, im­pos­si­bly sweet, triplepeeled and puréed. I had never tasted any­thing like it; I doubt I ever will again. The fraises des bois [wild straw­ber­ries] with mas­car­pone cheese sor­bet and warm straw­berry sauce al­most made me weep be­cause of its sim­plic­ity and sin­cer­ity. In many ways, I think that was the meal that con­vinced me the hard work might pay off; that if I could one day cook a meal half as de­li­cious as this, it would all be worth it.

The only meal that has been as trans­for­ma­tive was at Aponiente in Cádiz, Spain – as much for the food as Án­gel León him­self. I have never known a chef to eat in their own din­ing room but Án­gel joined me at the ta­ble. I won­der if the meal would have been as poignant if he hadn’t. Prob­a­bly yes, con­sid­er­ing the slice of phy­to­plank­ton bread, dark green and per­fumed with the sea, and the sin­gle, per­fect clam poached so lightly that it ap­peared raw. And there was some­thing about sit­ting and speak­ing with Án­gel that stuck with me – a man as mys­te­ri­ous and com­plex as his cook­ing.

These days, what makes me pas­sion­ate about food is watch­ing my daugh­ters eat. Frieda, my youngest, will try just about any­thing but Edith has a slightly more… dis­cern­ing palate. They both go nuts for fresh milk from Blue Hill Farm, my fam­ily’s dairy in the Berk­shires [in Mas­sachusetts]. The cows are 100 per cent grass-fed and we go to great lengths to en­sure the health of the pas­ture so the milk is pretty ex­cep­tional. When we’re at the farm, the girls wake me at dawn – not that they don’t do that any­way – to milk the cows. Then we run back to the house to have a glass of creamy, sweet, still-warm milk. It doesn’t get much bet­ter than that.

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