A Recipe for the Recipe

Dan Barber: A Recipe for the Recipe

Dan Barber, Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Blue Hill restaurant in Greenwich Village, is deeply involved in Stone Barns Center, a four-season farm and educational center north of New York City, the source of most of the restaurant’s food. Dan gave an exciting and information-packed talk at Dartmouth on Tuesday: “A Recipe for the Recipe.” It was his “recipe’ or plan for providing his chefs with the most flavorful ingredients.

The farmers at Stone Barns are focused on flavor. They enrich their soil with their own carefully managed compost and other organic soil amendments, including bio char made at the farm, and pay careful attention to seed varieties, planting and picking time, weather factors, etc. with an eye to developing the most delicious vegetables possible.

One measure of flavor is Brix degrees. (Brix is a sum of the pounds of sucrose, fructose, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, proteins, hormones, and other solids in one hundred pounds of plant juice.) Dan talked of their excitement at growing delicious carrots with a 13+ Brix reading (off the charts) as compared to a tasteless, store-bought organic carrot that had a 0.0 Brix reading. Their high Brix readings have led to collaboration with Dr. Li of the Angiogenesis Foundation which is exploring the anti-tumor-growing properties of certain foods (the hypothesis being that foods with a high Brix reading may be especially effective in inhibiting growth of cancerous tumors.)

The topic piqued my interest and I’ve done a little reading on soil, BRIX, flavor and health:

“A recent report, based on U.S. agriculture records has found that the nutrient content of fruits and vegetables has been dropping since records were first taken. You would need to eat five apples today just to get the same nutrients from eating one apple in 1965!”

A “consequence of depleted soils is that food crops grown on these soils do not contain the full supply of minerals, vitamins and other essential nutrients required for optimum nutrition and health. These crops are weaker, and more susceptible to insects, fungus, disease, drought, frost, and other stresses. And the animals and humans that consume these plants grown on depleted soils similarly are subject to mineral deficient diets, which degrades the density and quality of vitamins, sugars, proteins, and other nutrients they obtain from those foods. The multiple results of this include reduced growth and vitality, lessened productivity, weakened reproductivity, and compromised immune systems. ”



“In the 1970s, French researcher Francis Chaboussou developed the theory of trophobiosis, which asserts that a plant’s immune system is a function of the nutritional state of the plant. When protein synthesis occurs, the plant is strong and can resist diseases and pests; when proteins are broken down, the plant is at risk. Elements that particularly affect protein synthesis:

1. Soil deficiency in trace elements and nitrogen excess, due to an imbalanced fertilization.

2. Use of pesticides that can act either directly by a protein synthesis inhibition on the plant or indirectly through an alteration of soil balance.



How much of our nation’s current health problems are a result of the proliferation of pesticides and depleted agricultural soils? Are our immune systems being affected by the consequent poor nutrition?

Might these factors help explain why some studies have not shown significant differences in the nutritional value of organic vs conventionally grown foods? Growing without pesticides is part of the answer to growing healthy foods . . . but it’s not the whole answer: the most nutritious, most flavorful vegetables come from the healthiest soils.

I love Dan Barber’s and Stone Barn’s commitment to that end . . and am eager to start experimenting with a Brix meter in this summer’s garden. I, too, want to grow the most nutritious and delicious veggies possible.

For more on Angiogenesis see “CAN WE EAT TO STARVE CANCER?” by Dr. William Li

See Dan’s TED talk on a sustainable fishery “How I Fell in Love with a Fish”


and his talk on a more humane and sustainable foie gras at


Good article and photos at http://www.nyrestaurantinsider.com/june2007-dan-barber.asp

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One Response to A Recipe for the Recipe

  1. E. Baron says:

    This is fascinating stuff. It makes perfect sense that plant’s also have immune systems, so to speak. If our vegetables are grown in a way that makes them strong enough to fight off pests and diseases, of course they’ll be better for us, too!

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