Old MacDonald Had the Right Idea...Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

by Stacy Yoshioka


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I have a confession to make, I am a closet “foodie”.  For those of you who don’t know, a “foodie” would be described as an individual who goes out to eat to discover different cuisine, different types of dining from fine to casual to street fare, someone who likes to cook and learn new methods and someone who just enjoys good food.  I love to eat, I love to cook and mix good food in the equation and I’m pretty damn happy.  How is this relevant to a personal trainer’s blog?  Allow me to share my train of thought...

My husband and I came to an agreement about 2 years ago when we started reading and learning what was going in to our food.  We agreed to try to “clean up our act” and try to eat food that was clean and free of pesticides, chemicals and hormones and we would try to buy produce locally thus putting our money back in to the farms in the NY area which grow our food in a way we want it to be grown.  It’s nice to know your farmer, kind of like knowing your doctor or banker.  You can trust the product.  Let me tell you though, it’s not been easy.  “Easy” food is usually the food we are trying to avoid and we have had to take the time to cook for ourselves and ask questions about what we are eating, really take a look at the portions we are consuming and now, two years later, I think we are finally in the swing of things.  Two years!  That’s almost as long as we have been married and a huge commitment to our bodies and our life style.

Food is something we all need and cannot live without.  As a personal trainer we are constantly asked what to eat and how much we can consume.  Truth be told, I am not a nutritionist and I do not give out nutritional advice but it does peak my interest so I am trying to learn more about food, consumption and how we use it as energy to be able to give that kind of advice.  In the meantime I have been educating myself on the way food gets to our tables to get a better understanding of what we are putting in our bodies.  This type of information is easily found on the internet; in various documentaries, both political in nature and filled with propaganda; in books; at your local farmer’s market and numerous other resources such as cooking classes, chefs at restaurants etc.  I have read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and I own his other two books In Defense of Food and Food Rules which I have yet to read.  I have watched Food Inc.Food Fight, and other documentaries centering around the industrialization of food and the energy it takes to get that food to our grocery stores and ultimately on our tables.  With all of this information one thing resonated to me that is the center of this blog post; we are living in a day and age where the process of getting the food to our tables and the process of growing it in such high quantities is doing two major thing that we need to avoid, we are using way too much energy to process and transport food, thus increasing our carbon footprint, and we are doctoring up so much of our food to make it bigger and better to the point where it’s not natural anymore!  Yuck!  The amount of chemicals that go in to some of the food we buy at the grocery store can’t be good for us, so why do we eat it?

My best friend works in the fine dining industry.  She has exposed me to a lot of amazing cuisine and some amazing experiences.  She and I were supposed to take a trip to Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown back in 2005 or 2006 (I can’t remember) but something always came up for work and I never made it.  (Sorry Tobie!)  She has been and many people had told me it was an amazing experience but I hadn’t made the trek yet.  I didn’t realize it at the time but Blue Hill at Stone Barns prides itself as being a restaurant that uses only ingredients from the farm at Stone Barns and other neighboring farms.  The produce is alway fresh, seasonal and local as is the livestock.  Years later after making the huge change in our lifestyle to include more local produce my husband and I decided this would be our mecca for fine dining and booked a reservation for July 3, 2010 the day before going on vacation to visit my family in Hawaii.  Let me tell you, what a great way to start vacation!

Blue Hill is the resident restaurant at Stone Barns Farm where they have a agricultural center to teach visitors about the farm and it’s workings.  We decided to spend the day at the center touring the farm and absorbing as much as we could about the way food gets to the table in this clean and sustainable atmosphere.  We learned quite a bit while we were there.  We learned that the 80 acre farm used to be a dairy farm owned by Peggy Rockafeller which provided all of the dairy to the Rockafeller family and staff for both their upstate and NYC residences.  The dairy farm closed down and the land was donated to create the agricultural center where visitors could go and sign up for programs to see the workings of the farm.  They do all of their own composting and make their own charcoal for the grills they use.  They rotate their crops so they don’t deplete the soil of nutrients and have to use harsh chemical fertilizers to produce the best possible crops.  We saw the greenhouse where most of the salad greens are grown year round and got to taste 6 different types of garlic!  They have their own hives to produce their own honey.  They have recently started growing their own hops to brew their own beer.  They rotate the pastures that the sheep, chickens and turkeys graze on to be sure they are fed properly and naturally and not from chemical ridden corn feed that can be found on so many industrial farms that raise livestock.  They even use the pigs they raise to forage the land when they need something dug up.  Nothing goes to waste!  We started with the “Insider’s Tour” for a complete overview of the farm (vegetables and livestock) and the restaurant.  We even got to go in the kitchen!  After that, we signed up for a class that gave us the opportunity to harvest our own basil and garlic from the vegetable garden and make pesto (a great snack before our 5pm reservation).  We saw the produce brought to market right in the courtyard adjacent to the restaurant and the learning center and ended the day with dinner.

For those of you who have never had the Blue Hill experience this is something to do before you die!  First and foremost, the attentiveness of the staff was amazing from choreographing the pulling out of chairs to seat us to setting plates down in front of you so everyone eats at the same pace.  When ordering my pre-dinner cocktail I ordered a purple basil mojito that is usually on the summer menu.  It was mentioned to me by the staff in the pesto making class but had not yet hit the menu for the summer.  Our server overheard me talking about it to another server no sooner had she asked, the bar staff went outside, picked some fresh purple basil and made me the mojito I was so looking forward to.  Now that is something that I was not expecting!  On to the meal!  It is set up as different tasting menus based on what is in season at the time.  You have a choice of 5 or 8 courses, the option of a wine pairing with each course and an optional cheese course.  Katherine, our more than capable server, chatted with us and asked us a series of questions which spanned much further than our food likes, dislikes and dietary constraints to determine what the chef would be making for us tonight then asked us if the table was set on 5 or 8 courses.  We settled on 8 courses to have the full effect of the experience and I opted for the wine pairing to compliment each dish.  Before each course our server Katherine would bring over something from the large table in the middle of the room that was a showcase for all of the seasonal produce of the day to give us a little inside look at what we might be seeing on our plates for the evening.  5 pre-appetizers later our food started to arrive, 6 courses later dinner was over followed by 2 dessert courses.  Honestly, I cannot remember everything that we ate but I do know that I have never had such delicious food and the wines that the somolier Thomas picked out were so amazing I had to ask him to make a list of the 7 different wines I had tasted (one with each dinner course and one dessert wine for both desserts) so I could go in search of them for my own dinners.  (You see?  Closet “foodie”.)

The moral of my story?  This is supposed to relate to fitness right?  How do you like this for a “moral”?  Fitness is only complimented by what you use to fuel your body and in the interest of lowering your carbon footprint and consuming fuel that is chemical and pesticide free for a healthier you, I think that this “clean food movement” is something we all need to embrace.

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I really think that Old MacDonald had the right idea.  Go out and support your local farmers and learn how to cook with what is in season.  Not sure what is in season?  Check out different websites for a list of seasonal vegetables and look for recipes!  You might surprise yourself!  Ask if your local farmer if their meats are grass fed and how they were raised.  Most farmers love sharing their methods to show you the value in what you are eating.  You can learn so much just from a friendly conversation at the farmer’s market.  Keep the distance the food travels from the farm to the table at a minimum and taste the difference!