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REVIEW: Dan Barber’s THE THIRD PLATE

Dan Barber: “How had I assumed all those years that polenta smelled of nothing more than dried meal?”

Dan Barber: “How had I assumed all those years that polenta smelled of nothing more than dried meal?”

Dan Barber is chef/co-owner of the Michelin-starred, farm-to-table New York restaurant Blue Hill, and also Blue Hill at Stone Barns  (in upstate New York), where organic produce for the two restaurants is grown.

In addition, Barber is a man who knows how to tell a good story—a skill he puts to good use in The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, published in 2014. (Acclaimed journalist Ira Glass, of This American Life, professes envy of Barber’s writing skills when he introduces him in the YouTube clip Beyond Farm-to-Table.)

Barber’s book opens with a yarn:

A corncob, dried and slightly shriveled, arrived in the mail […] Along with the cob was a check for $1,000.

It turns out that a seed collector had sent the cob, an heirloom corn dating back to the 1600s. Native Americans had cultivated that particular variety because of its flavour, and it was then adopted and enjoyed by colonists. But the frigid winter of 1816 killed the American plants; starving animals and people ate the harvested barn-stored cobs. The variety disappeared altogether from New England.

But in the 21st century, the seed collector traced this corn to a rare crop in Italy. That is the cob Barber now holds in his hand, along with a plea to grow it—and $1,000 to persuade him to accept the challenge.

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