This Pound Ridge family operates two of the most successful eateries in the region
Photo by Rana Faure
Nattily dressed in a crisp white shirt, gray vest, and houndstooth trousers, Pound Ridger David Barber welcomes a visitor to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, one of two farm-to-table restaurants he co-owns with his wife, Laureen, and his brother, the executive chef Dan Barber. After sampling fresh white-bean-and-cabbage soup from the kitchen, David, the trio’s financial strategist, leads the way to the bar, where fireside seating is a comfortably chic combination of upholstered sofas and leather armchairs.
Equally stylish in a sage green ensemble, Laureen arrives moments later, having stayed behind to get the couple’s two children off to school on this Friday morning before joining her husband at work. Laureen is the design director for Blue Hill, overseeing all aesthetics from interiors to website graphics to the restaurant’s signature glassware.
The team of Barbers began their careers as restaurateurs when David and Laureen joined Dan in the catering business he founded in Greenwich Village. “In 1999, we moved the kitchen into a space we rented near NYU and decided we’d use the front as a little neighborhood bistro to help cover the rent. It was an incredibly naive way to enter the restaurant business, but we started getting a lot of attention,” David explains. “The rapid interest in what Dan was doing with food and our connection with farms surprised us and brought in the likes of David Rockefeller.”
Rockefeller, the grandson of John D. Rockefeller, was so impressed by the quality of the food and the partners’ commitment to locally sourced ingredients that he eventually offered them the use of his family’s 80-acre dairy farm in Westchester as a location for a second Blue Hill restaurant. Together with Rockefeller, the Barbers founded the non-profit Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, which has since become host to a working farm, an education center, an event facility, and the Barbers’ award-winning, for-profit restaurant.
Housed in one of several renovated Norman-style stone barns, Blue Hill’s interior is a blend of rusticity and modernism. Every item, from dishware to paper goods, is custom-designed or chosen to feel fresh and cutting-edge, just like the food.
After nearly ten years, the Barbers have come to realize that the strength of Blue Hill at Stone Barns lies in the relationships it has with the other entities on the campus. “I just walked in through the kitchen and there was the farmer with the chef tasting ingredients,” Laureen describes. “That happens all the time, and for some people that might not seem remarkable, but it always puts a smile on my face, and I can see they’re enjoying themselves, too.”
“That collaboration makes us different,” David acknowledges. “Every time there is a challenge, the restaurateur has an opinion, the farmer has an opinion, and the educator has an opinion. We’ve learned to sit down and work together on what is best for this place long-term. There are many decisions we would have made differently, as restaurateurs, had we not developed empathy for the work involved in agriculture or in planning an education program.”
Blue Hill at Stone Barns has committed to a no-waste policy, which means that the restaurant purchases all of the farm’s unsold harvest at wholesale prices. “In order to buy that way from a farm and to maintain a viable business, we had to move away from having menus. We needed the flexibility to work through the inventory,” he explains. So the team shifted the way they and their staff talk to customers about what they will be eating. Instead of a traditional menu with many specific dishes to choose from, guests now receive a notebook listing what ingredients are available from the fields, pastures, or root cellars that month. The employees have been trained in the art of conversation, so that they can discuss customers’ preferences and then serve as liaisons between the customers and the kitchen to facilitate a unique culinary experience.
“The customers really give themselves up to it,” Laureen says. “They come early, to tour the grounds and the buildings, trying to get a greater experience than just the dining room. We’re special, in large part, because of the farm, and maybe that’s where the world has moved in the last ten years, too. People want to learn and to know. And, because they also want to share, we offer them a notepad for jotting down observations.”
By every week’s end, the Barbers transition from their Manhattan apartment to the 1937 stone Georgian they bought in Pound Ridge. “We started searching for a home in Chappaqua and Pleasantville to be close to the restaurant, but once David brought me to Pound Ridge, where his grandfather lived years ago, the search was over,” Laureen explains. The couple’s two sons have since become so active on the local Little League and basketball teams, that the family treks here mid-week for practices and to grab a quick bite at local eateries, like Kicho, Meetinghouse, Table Local Market, and 121. Their country house, formerly owned by designer Vera Wang’s family, is one of Laureen’s favorite places to cook.
Living above their Greenwich Village restaurant makes commuting home for family dinners on weeknights easy, and the couple have made a commitment to break bread together on weekends, as well. Laureen, who grew up on home cooking, is the head chef at home. “My mother and my grandmother were very good cooks, and I was required to cook. So I learned, and I’m very grateful for that,” she says. “David’s mother died when he was young, so he grew up eating well in restaurants. While he had a much more adventurous culinary background than I did, the marrying of our two experiences directly benefits our kids, who are terrific eaters.”
By the end of the day, the boys have arrived at Stone Barns and subsequently ventured off to visit the farmers. Trading haute cuisine for a basket full of fresh produce, Laureen collects her family, and as they drive north through Bedford, talk inevitably turns to the evening’s homemade feast. The menu is democratically decided upon (summer squash tart, fresh tomatoes with feta and mint as a salad, and some grilled shrimp and vegetables, tossed with lemon, olive oil, and fresh herbs), and the weekend begins.
Bill Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road,
Pocantico Hills, NY