A Mystery Up at Stone Barns

The first time I heard of Stone Barns was a few years ago when Mike and I were tossing around ideas for a piece I was going to write for Spenser Magazine. But, the timing did not work out with the publishing schedule, that plan got parked and I wrote about Uruguay instead. We attempted to revisit it again later but it quite never came through.

Last Summer, as an excuse to practise my driving skills, patient teacher and I decided to head to the famed farm to table pioneers and see what the fuss was all about. Blue Hill Cafe in NYC and the restaurant up in Stone Barns has been making headlines in the new whole know-your-food movement taking off in the US. The thing that always gets me about these places is the price of goods. 

I know growing real food costs money. Farming is expensive and the American supermarket's 'competitive' pricing is truly reflective of poor quality. Yet, I cannot reconcile to the theory that it could cost $$$$$ for a simple real food dinner. That is until I went to Ballymaloe Country House in Ireland this December. You see, there are a lot of parallels between the two places. From the approach, to the simplicity of the dishes, to the steep prices.

Rambling acres, self-contained pig and chicken enclosures, free-roaming beasts, carefully cultivated polyculture farming techniques... Age old wisdoms renewed. Ireland is blessed is normal farming techniques and amazing quality of produce from vegetables to meat to fish. Upstate NY is finding out that it is not so bad after all and with some care can produce genuine treasures.

Yet, while the stroll was refreshing amidst the buzzing bees and green green grass (especially, in Ireland), I still do not understand why it costs so much to enjoy the simple pleasures of the land. In honesty, I have not dined in the restaurants of either establishment (because, I cannot afford to) but I have enjoyed their more down-to-earth cafes. I can say, while it was good food and priced fair here, it was not an eye-opening experience with sparklers going off in my head.

I am fully aware that my less than enthusiastic impression here bucks the trend and many 'established' bloggers' eloquent waxings. Perhaps, I am pampered because I have access to great produce in my home in the city as well as while in Ireland. Irish produce is incredible to begin with and little needs to be done to it to take pleasure in it. Similarly, I think farmers' markets and local businesses in the city are doing a fantastic job of affordably delivering properly grown (without sprays, rotational farming techniques etc.) produce and meats. 

I did bring back a carton of Stone Barns eggs and I have had dozens of freshly laid ones fed on the rich Irish soil. Yet, my dairy and egg farm is the best I have tried in the region and they are fairly priced! 

So, tell me, where is the economics? Aside from the fact that there are clearly people who are willing to pay, I do not see the sustainability in this model. Then I wonder, do the people who pay so much understand what it really costs and takes to run such a farm and feed people off it? Or does it, like the original Concorde travelers, stem from an inflated non-understanding?

{The story is that British Airways that was operating the original Concordes asked its fliers how much they thought a ticket would cost. BA was surprised that the expected pricing was far above the real cost. And, so, they simply went ahead and matched expectations and made a killing!}

________________________________________

What do you think?

Do you think restaurants using fresh, real ingredients and not much more ingenuity charge sky-high prices?

I will leave you with some charming photos from my visit, while you mull over where the future of food is heading for regular people such as us and comment on this post.... :)

Happy Weekend!