blue hill at stone barns

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

What is the word for it?: Kismet

This winter, I spent a week sewing white muslin curtains and listening to Chef Dan Barber’s book, The Third Plate, on audio cd. I was so entranced by the ideas in the book, that I brought the cd with me on extra trips to the fabric store, and on the short drive to pick my daughter up from school. For a few weeks, I became obsessed. I told everyone about the book, and the ideas in it. I was interviewed for a podcast on food photography, and I talked about the book. I bought seeds from Row 7 Seeds, a company Chef Dan Barber co-founded. I considered going to an expensive dinner event, hosted by Chef Barber, to meet people who would talk about food and farming, and the future of these things. I bought copies of the book to give away, and thought about taking one of the winter farm tours at Stone Barns.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
The Blue Hill at Stone Barns kitchen team gathers before service.

And then I got a call from an editor at the Washington Post Magazine. “We are doing a feature review on Blue Hill at Stone Barns for the magazine’s Luxury edition. Are you available to do the photography?”

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Chef Dan Barber
Chef Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns

The day did not disappoint. Chef Barber couldn’t have been nicer. He plated food for the shots. He graciously allowed me to take multiple portrait set ups. I was invited to photograph anything: the kitchen, dining room, farm, greenhouses, chefs grilling, bakers baking, the front-of-house pre-service meeting, and a little secret courtyard garden where lucky diners are sometimes escorted. The day reminded me of all the things I love about being a food photographer.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns dining room
a four season greenhouse
Crop Production Manager Jason Grauer in the four-season, soil-based greenhouse at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

I had brought my husband, Chris, with me. Years ago, we used to enjoy drive-traveling together, chatting, and meeting interesting people. Recently, we are just so busy with life to take a day to work together. We have a daughter now, and hours on the road are more of a grind than relaxing. But, I told him this was a treat: It is not every day you get an invitation to have a fly-on-the-wall experience at one of the top restaurants in the world. He agreed, and I enjoyed glancing at his face as he watched the back-of-house kitchen scene. It is like being inside of an episode of Chef’s Table, but it is live. Heat and movement are everywhere.

Chef Barber presented us with an arrangement of foods to photograph – things I have never seen before, although some I had read about in his book. Everything related to what we had just seen in the greenhouses and on the farm.

preservation cart blue hill at stone barns
The Preservation Cart at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The display changes daily and often through service. Shown here: Eight Row Flint Corn, cured embryonic eggs, charcuterie, dehydrated squash puree, fermented black garlic, pickled strawberries, milkweed pods done like capers, habanada peppers.
noble jade at blue hill
Noble Jade marrow, picked from the greenhouse
food at blue hill at stone barns
Chicory that wanted to be a rose
cured eggs
Cured eggs
popcorn blue hill at stone barns
Popcorn on the cob

I am not allowed to receive gifts, or eat for free, when I work for the big national newspapers. Although, we had half an hour to spare at one point, and Chris and I sat in a corner of the bar, as the first diners arrived. We drank water, and when two small yellow drinks appeared before us, we sipped them. Fermented tumeric soda. Delicious.

cocktails at blue hill stone barns
The Vegetable Field, a cocktail made of fermented parsnip, mezcal, tallow, and peppercorn.
The Herb Garden, a non-alcoholic cocktail made with thyme and badger flame beets.
Chef Dan Barber
Chef Dan Barber with members of the kitchen team, creating courses for diners, during service.
Chef Dan Barber
Chef Dan Barber portrait
Chef Dan Barber

The review was published in the Washington Post Magazine last month. I took more photos than they could print. And it was a bigger experience than I could relate in one image on Instagram. Now that it is nearly summer, my attention has shifted to other things. The curtains are up in my kitchen photo studio, and I have been busy photographing food in there. But, when I pause and reflect on the seemingly random timing of things, I am amazed.

This summer, we will be visiting my family on the west coast of Canada. I can’t wait to see if my brother planted some of the Row 7 seeds I sent him.

Published by Jennifer May

Jennifer May is a food photographer based in New York's Hudson Valley and Brooklyn.

Food stories in New York's Hudson Valley and beyond from photographer Jennifer May