Food & Drink

How This Chef Is Making Dinner More Sustainable

Many people wouldn't think that a juicy slab of red meat could be replaced by a root vegetable without compromising either flavor or the overall dining experience, but Dan Barber, the executive chef of Blue Hill restaurant in New York City, is proving it's not just possible, it's a priority.

Barber, who is also the author of the book The Third Plate, joined HuffPost Live host Nancy Redd to discuss how reworking the traditional dinner menu to feature only what the natural landscape can provide works wonders for food sustainability.

"We need to think about the system," Barber said. "It's not about a single ingredient -- it's about an ecosystem, about an ecology, about an entire farming system that produces a lot of great food, and we need to support the system. So to do that, I think we need to re-look at the architecture of our plate."

For example, Blue Hill's menu features a parsnip steak in lieu of traditional, grass-fed beef. Barber's team planted the vegetables last year in nutrient-rich soil, so they're huge, flavorful and ready for harvesting.

"We're celebrating what is to be celebrated this time of year because it's delicious, but still keeping it in the context of, 'How can we create a plate of food or a menu that supports a landscape?' And that, to me, is renegotiating what we covet for a plate of food," he said.

Watch the full HuffPost Live clip above to hear more about how Barber is working to make dinner more sustainable.

1. Put Tomatoes On The Counter Just The Right Way
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Aside from letting unripe tomatoes mature on a sunny windowsill, there's another thing you can do to ensure they'll be at their most delicious when you're ready to enjoy them alongside some fresh mozzarella or chopped in salsa: Position them on your counter (or windowsill) stem-side up; Eric Stone, produce merchant at FreshDirect, says this will help avoid bruising the "shoulders," or area around the stem. However, if a tomato's stem has already come off, store it stem-side downto prevent air from entering and moisture from exiting the place where the stem used to be.
2. Know When To Warm Up Your Strawberries
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You may have heard thatquickly simmering fresh strawberries in very hot water, then air-drying them on towels and refrigerating them suppresses mold growth (science backs this up). But Stone says even if you take painstaking steps to prolong the shelf life of berries, there's one way to undo all that work: Eating them cold. Berries taste infinitely better at room temperature or even slightly warmer, as anyone who's ever picked a strawberry in a sunny field and popped it directly into their mouth knows. Fridge temperatures dull their flavor significantly. Leave the fruit out for an hour, or so, before eating it and you'll be rewarded with sweet, tart-tasting berries.
3. Read The Label For The Freshest Grapes
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Stone says the best place to store grapes is in the perforated plastic bag you buy them in (or in a paper bag) in the refrigerator. But, he notes, if you're buying lower quality grapes (you'll know if they're wrinkled, brownish or white where they connect to the stem), there's only so much you can do to make them last longer than a week. This articleexplains that grapes from Chile could be months old by the time consumers get them, despite growers' best efforts to store the fruit well. Sweet, crisp Mexican grapes land in supermarkets much more quickly after harvest -- sometimes within a week.
4. Give Asparagus Some Nourishment
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This spring vegetable, a member of the lily family, needs water to stay fresh. Stone likes to stand it up in a cup of water in the fridge (not much; just enough so that the bottoms of the spears are wet) to keep it crisp longer. And if your asparagus has become limp or even rubbery, you can bring it back to life by laying the spears on a wet paper towel for a half hour or so -- they'll soak up the moisture and perk back up, regaining their signature tender texture.
5. Resist The Urge To Make A Citrus Centerpiece
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Like strawberries, oranges and grapefruits have a much brighter, richer flavor at room temperature. And lemons and limes yield more juice when they're not ice cold. But just because these citrus fruits can stay out, doesn't mean they should (even though they may look stunning in a bowl on your table). Stone says most citrus will stay juicy at room temperature for about a week, but will keep even longer if stored in the fridge. Just take the fruit out to warm it up before eating or juicing it (you can even pop it into the microwave for five to 10 seconds for maximum juice).