Chef Victoria Blamey in Residence at Stone Barns – Pocantico Hills, NY
"Different cultures inspire me. Colors inspire me. Travel inspires me. That’s what really excited me when I left Chile the first time at 18—I like discovering things that are completely different from who I am or what I’ve had or what I’ve seen. That‘s one of the things I love about living in a cosmopolitan city—I love diversity.
In general, I draw inspiration from the memories and the past—my childhood, old traditions, and old glamour—finding the story in things you didn’t know were there. While in Chile recently, I read a couple of books about how people used to eat in the sixties. I also get very inspired by food that’s around me—like street food! I love food, I love eating, so I like to be inspired by my food memories."
Each of the Stone Barns resident chefs in their first season, or something about their meals, had some sort of serendipitous connection to various currents in my life. I got the last spot for Chef Shola's residency exactly one year to the day after my first visit to Stone Barns. Chef Omar's residency explored a storied food history that I'd been very interested in recently, and also had a strong connection to Chef Jonny Rhodes, whose restaurant I got to visit in Houston a couple years back. Johnny, the west coast wunderkind, explored indigenous foodways, something I've been particularly attuned to recently, and also gave me a west-coast perspective (one familiar to me!) of Stone Barns. And finally, Victoria Blamey is a Chilean chef, and I happened to have taken a recent trip to Chile, as well as had the chance to explore some Andean foodways!
Victoria Blamey is a remarkable chef with a decorated résumé. Born in Santiago, she worked her way through kitchens in Australia, the UK, and Spain (at Mugaritz, one of the finest restaurants in the world) before landing in NYC. Here she worked at Corton and helped start two-Michelin-starred Atera as sous chef before she was finally offered an executive chef position at Chumley's. After leaving Chumley's, she happened into an executive chef position at Gotham Bar and Grill, an institution in New York City, where she modernized the menu and earned a coveted (and rare) three-star review from The New York Times. Her most publicized accomplishment was the addition of bone marrow to a burger patty at Chumley's. Droooool.
Sadly, Gotham Bar and Grill was one of the first victims of the pandemic, and shuttered just five days after New York entered lockdown, leaving Victoria adrift again. She returned to Chile, and in the spirit of bringing chefs that had lost their livelihoods to the Hudson Valley, Stone Barns invited her to do one of their residencies, with Chef Dan Barber saying recently he had never been excited to welcome a chef to Stone Barns.
"I’d like to have a local and seasonal restaurant in a neighborhood. I want to cook for people. I would love to create an environment that is safe and that can be creative, educating, and nurturing for people. I want something that is more unique, and that is more about who I am. Especially embracing diversity and multiculturalism."
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I was a little surprised that a place like Stone Barns, one of the most progressive food institutions in the world, had chosen three men and one woman for their first chef residency season. Don't get me wrong––I was thrilled to see even one woman on the list in an industry that can be a hell of a boy's club. I was also encouraged to see that all four chefs were folks of color. But the "woke" part of me was kinda like "couldn't a place like Stone Barns find two women so it was at least equally representative?" I mean, even their wine director is a woman, in a wine world saturated by white dudes.
Sometimes I think white, privileged woke people need to be careful about being offended on someone else's behalf. A lot of "woke" culture (not all of it, of course) involves privileged white people screaming at other privileged white people on social media about slights to folks less privileged, battles that the "victims" of these slights didn't ask us to fight for them. Don't get me wrong––allyship is a good thing, but it's challenging to navigate, and more nuanced than people in positions of privilege realize.
That's why when I came to write this blog, I was expecting to wax rhapsodic about how important representation of women should be in the food service industry, and make a gigantic point about the inequities toward women in this career. And of course, I believe all these things. But I didn't use this blog to do so for an important reason.
Chef Victoria Blamey doesn't really see her career in that light. Or at least, it's not a major focus of her work.
In an interview with Reset the Table, Chef Victoria responded to a question about the challenges of being a woman, and a woman of color, in the industry:
You know, I don’t really think about it that way . . . I’ve just always thought, “This is what I want to do, I should have the same opportunity here as anyone else.”
I realize I’m unique. I grew up with my mom in Chile as an only child—she had me when she was really young. She works for a huge multinational company and growing up with her, I saw the struggles of inequality of payment between women and men. While I haven’t necessarily experienced that in my career, I do still have that chip ingrained of: “I need to try harder, I do need to double the work. If someone needs to stay late, I’ll stay later, if someone needs to go in early, I’ll go in earlier. I’m not gonna ask for help, I’m not gonna ask for someone to carry anything for me.” I think that’s what I had envisioned it would be like as a woman starting in the business—like, physically I need to be stronger. I can do the same as a man but I need to make sure I prove that by being like a rock. That’s what I did and what I still do—though, of course, now in different ways.
. . .
I think [female chefs] see ourselves almost as a-gendered at some point in our career. I was in a documentary last year called “The Heat,” with very interesting women, all very high-profile chefs . . . we all admitted that we don’t think about gender in the kitchen. If we want to hire someone, we want to hire the best; if we do something, we want to do our best. We’re not thinking about who’s a man or who’s a woman. There’s this incredibly high standard that we hold for everyone in the industry.
But, at the same time, we find ourselves asking, “How do we make room for women now to have the opportunities we didn’t have?” I’m still asking myself that question. It’s just something that no one really gave us the space to do back in the day. No one cared about how it felt to be a woman in foodservice. At the time, we didn’t want to think about it because we were supposed to be the same as the guys. And that’s the thing—we wanted to be noticed because of our work—not because of our gender, not because we might be pretty, or because of anything physical. We just knew we’d have to try harder to be noticed for the same work and we did.
My perspective has changed very recently – I’ve become more aware and, in a way, I have become more skeptical. Less trusting of people. I am trying to understand how to behave in an industry where injustices happen. I want to try to change that—though I’m not quite sure how you do it. I’ve also become more curious about other women’s experiences. You know, there’s sometimes a breach between women and our hearts in the way we interact with each other, and I want to bridge that. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but I want to figure out how to interpret that experience as a female. I think having more panels and conferences for women in the industry to connect and talk about their experiences is important.
Instead of through the lens of sex, Chef Victoria views her work, much like the bulk of Stone Barns' work, through the lens of sustainability, diversity, the social responsibility of food, and revolutionizing agricultural and food practices. She is passionate about things like minimizing food waste, planting community gardens, fostering consumption of sustainable produce and proteins, etc.––all central tenets of Stone Barns' mission.
I’m excited for chefs to play a bigger role in contributing to society and shaping the next generation of chefs to think sustainably. I think sustainability is going to be the main thing for us to focus on in the future of food. Restaurants need to take a moment to have an open conversation about food waste and really think about where our produce comes from and how we, as chefs, can better utilize our resources and understand our impact on the environment. We can work with seed growers and farmers to grow more diverse, flavorful breeds of produce and animals.
The conversation needs to start with asking: “Okay, how do I see the food waste not as waste but a resource? How can we use every part of the vegetable or animal?” You know, I’m probably not going to do anything with eggshells other than compost them—but there is a lot of opportunity to get creative here . . .
Sustainability is something that needs to be a part of our culinary education and our kitchen culture. I went to school in Chile and I’m not sure what they’re teaching now in culinary school, but sustainability and utilizing food scraps was not something that we learned. I think it’s going to take a great amount of education. But this is something that’s going to affect us in twenty, thirty, fifty years.
There is still such a huge disconnect for chefs between realizing where your product comes from or was grown and how it gets to your restaurant. Especially here in New York, it’s hard to stop and think about sustainability. Everyone is just trying to survive with minimum wages going up and rents going up—it’s like we’re all just waiting for the atomic bomb hit and wondering who’s going to be the last zombie alive? We’re waiting it out to see if it will get better. But food waste is a subject that can help us make better decisions now for our businesses and for the environment!
She was a perfect match for the bounties and philosophies of Stone Barns, and I was thrilled to see what she could come up with!
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It was a stunning, bright spring day on the property, with fresh green shoots on the trees and flowers all over. It was the first time I'd been here with things blooming, and the property was even more beautiful than I could have imagined.
I came in and was surprised to be sat at a different table this time! The perspective shift was welcome, and I wound up chatting with the fantastic couple next to me––more to come on that!
Chef Victoria focused on two elements key to Chilean foodways––seaweed and pork. Chile has over 4,000 miles of coastline, so the ocean is a critical part of Chileans' lives, and seafood, seaweed in particular, is an important part of the cuisine of coastal populations. On the big table in the center of the barn were sheer cloths, like sails, that housed dried seaweed, and between them there was a collection of beautiful shells. Just lovely, and a great backdrop for the beautiful gourd filled with flowers from the property in front of me.
In the spirit of seaweed, I started the meal with a sort of gin martini flavored with kelp and pickled fiddlehead ferns. It was delicious, saline, and mouthwatering, and worked perfectly with the first seafood-focused bites in the menu.
I hadn't seen too many spoilers on Instagram about this meal, but the one dish that Chef Victoria wrote about was this first dish––she calls it the "spinal cord" on Instagram, and it's intentionally long to represent Chile. Chileans indeed use a lot of seaweed, but they, like most who cultivate seaweed for food, often throw away the stem of the seaweed, called the "stipe." Victoria is interested in using parts of plants that are usually thrown away. Here, the stipe of sugar kelp is wrapped with long threads of rhubarb, and topped with a home-made kraut made from the farm's turnips. The dish was delicious, and the plate, designed by Greg Moore, was also a striking element of this dish. Jenny stopped by and told me that the plate was meant as "an invitation to jump into the sea" from Chef Victoria––pale blue and long, like the Chilean coast, the length of the plate looked like a beach. Really wonderful.
The next weed featured was not seaweed, but a rather ubiquitous land-based weed called knotweed. Knotweed is so invasive and grows so easily that in some countries you're actually required by law to alert local authorities if you have it in your yard. Not surprisingly, it grows wild on many parts of the Stone Barns property. Chef Johnny used knotweed in his meal, and Chef Victoria also features it here––she cuts it in half and fills one half with a "ceviche," a very important dish in Chile, with leche de tigre and diced shallots, and some wild greens atop. Really cool and thoughtful dish, and beautifully presented.
The third course was probably my favorite of the seaweed courses. Sugar kelp leaves were combined with what I believe was pickled veg (kohlrabi?) of some kind and donko shiitakes. What I loved about this course was how purely it expressed the flavors of each ingredient––the kelp was briny but sweet, the pickled bits added some acidity, and the donkos were almost bready in their heft. With the last few sips of the kelp martini, it was nearly perfect.
Since the martini was now drained, it was time for the fabulous Hannah to bring me a glass of wine to pair with the upcoming courses! Hannah knows how much I love interesting, funky wines, and had curated an all-Chilean selection for this meal. The perfect pairing with the seaweed courses was this semillon-dominant white wine by French winemaker who fell in love with Chilean fruit Louis-Antoine Luyt, made in a natural winemaking style that gave it an almost saline funkiness. Ideal with the seaweed courses to follow!
Greg Moore also made this beautiful plate for the residency, and it carried a tiny bite of fluke from a tiny fishing operation that Stone Barns loves, with a relish of sugar kelp and a dusting of aji color chili powder. Some of the best fish you could find, and a tasty course indeed, but there was just something missing from the palate that I couldn't quite put my finger on.
The next course, just titled "Jaiba," was absolutely special, and definitely competes for my favorite of the day. A little mound of succulent peekytoe Maine crab was served over pickled white asparagus and a creamy, tangy yogurt whey. A trout lily leaf and flower garnished the beautiful plate. The key was the tang of the yogurt whey, which help balance the sweet, rich crab. Just delicious.
Hannah brought me another glass of wine, a secret selection just for me that they don't usually pour by the glass––this chardonnay comes from the Atacama desert in the north of Chile, and just brims with hazelnut and custard on the nose, like a much more expensive chardonnay from Burgundy. I LOVE how versatile Chilean wines are, and how cheap they are for their quality.
It also happened to be one half of one of the best food-beverage pairings I have ever experienced. In Chile, mussels are a tremendously important source of food, and in a particular coastal region, there is a traditional method of stringing mussels together and dehydrating them over earthen pit fires to preserve them. Mussels in Chile can grow quite large, and Greg Moore captured this when he made the bespoke mussel shell dishware for this course. They grow so large, in fact, that there's an indigenous practice of using the shells to make footwear! These mussels were dehydrated in the traditional manner described above and then reconstituted, and served atop an absolutely delicious green garlic purée that tasted almost like a green curry, and grilled Murdock cabbage. Alongside, in a bed of mussel shells, the broth that was used to rehydrate the mussels was served as a warm elixir.
The chardonnay, meanwhile, was one of the greatest pairings I have ever had. If you know the world of food and wine, you may have heard that when it comes to pairing a dish and a beverage, "one plus one equals three," meaning a food and wine pairing should make the elements more than the sum of their parts. This was more like one plus one equals twenty. It was so perfect, in fact, that the couple at the table next to me insisted on the same pairing when I told them how good it was. Go Hannah!
One more dish would round out the seafood portion of the menu. A take on a traditional Chilean squash stew, Locro, corn and fermented squash was served with littleneck clams, baby scallops, and grilled soft shell crab. The crab in particular was really tasty, although a little hard to cut into smaller pieces!
Hannah brought a skin-contact wine made from a permutation of muscat grapes, telling me "I knew you had to try this one." It was floral and almost malty on the nose, like a beer, but the palate displayed a remarkably clean, botanical essence that was bursting with rose hips. Such a cool wine! (check out the color in the next photo!)
The second portion of the savory menu featured pork, an immensely important protein for the Chilean people. Stone Barns feeds their pigs food waste almost exclusively, which means their pigs are part of the overall sustainable, waste-free ecosystem of the farm, something Chef Blamey wanted to highlight.
The first dish of the pork portion featured two examples of traditional practices using as much of the pig as possible––arrollado de huaso is a conglomeration of pork bits, cumin, garlic, and aji color spices rolled in pig skin and cooked in broth. Here, Chef Victoria slices it thin and serves it alongside a slice of queso de cabeza, or head cheese, a type of cold cut terrine made from meat from the head and other "less loved" parts of the pig set in aspic. I don't really love the idea of head cheese (just the phrase makes me gag a bit), but this version was certainly the best head cheese you can get, and was very tasty! On the plate with the pork were various pickles and habanada pepper jelly. I particularly loved the arrollado with the habanada jelly.
You can always expect a bread course at Stone Barns. Alongside the pork dish was a Stone Barns take on a traditional Chilean bread, made with whole Barber wheat, with chicharrones imbedded in the bread. This was served with a whipped lard flavored Chilean spices. It was served warm, which made the lard melt right into the absolutely delicious bread. I remarked later that it might be my favorite bread course I've had at Stone Barns, which apparently inspired the staff to bring out the head baker to speak with me and give me a gift of another loaf! A nice little treat that I am munching on as I write this.
Red wine was next, this time a garnacha (or grenache) from Chile, which had a nice juicy character that I expect with grenache, but also a delightful, almost smoky flint character that would go really well with the last course!
A little bonus course, a slider, came out next, with boiled pork and cabbage kraut. This is a traditional Chilean sandwich called a "Lomita" that you can find all over the place at various street food stands in Santiago. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did, but it was absolutely delicious, and of course the bun it was served on came right from the Stone Barns bakery and was stellar.
The last course was "carne asada," which can refer to any manner of grilled meat in Latin American cuisine. Sticking with pork, I was served several cuts of pork, including a perfectly-cooked loin, a delicious pork brisket, and a slice of traditional Chilean sausage, which was my favorite. They also included a grilled squash cut, which was cool because it harkens back to something that Dan Barber was famous for at Blue Hill Stone Barns––making a vegetable taste like meat. In the middle, they included a grilled ramp, my first ramp of the season! So tasty. Alongside was a dish I forgot to photograph, "Dos Motes," but was corn and barley combined in a soup of pork broth and pork fat. Chef Blamey calls this dish "humble" and "precious," its two primary ingredients representing the indigenous Andean and colonial Spanish foodways and ingredients that shape Chilean cuisine today.
That concluded the savory portion of the meal, and Hannah brought me a cocktail to pair with the dessert courses. In the south of Chile, dark beer is often used in cocktails, and this beverage used rum and dark beer to create something that almost resembled a coffee-based cocktail without any coffee. Very enjoyable.
The first dessert course was a sorbet of fermented corn served with puffed quinoa and honey. I was wondering when we might see quinoa, a major grain in Chile! This dish almost made me feel like the entire residency season had come full-circle, because Chef Shola's meal began with a potato ice cream with Benne seeds, and resembled this dish both in construction (seeds/grains over the top of the ice cream/sorbet) and also in the savory ingredient that made up the ice cream. It even made me a shade emotional to experience!
The next dessert was also fantastic, and had some salty elements to it that I loved. Sweet Mokum carrots were served with crumbled pistachios, a bit of salty dried seaweed (I think), honey, and a custard made from the milk of Blue Hill cows. Enjoyed this a lot, and it reminded me of being served a glass of Blue Hill milk as my last taste the first time I dined at Stone Barns. More emotions!
The last two bites were a Chilean cookie stuffed with black walnut and a poached pear empanada. I don't think I've ever had a sweet empanada, and this version was delicious, and I was glad to see empanadas, an important food item in Chile, featured.
The time came for an after-dinner drink, and I realized I'd not yet had their pisco sour, and on a Chilean menu! For shame. This one was particularly cool, as it was a pisco sour version of a whiskey sour drink called a New York sour, a drink I've featured on this blog before! In a New York sour, a traditional whiskey sour is dressed with a "float" of fruit-forward red wine.
Enjoying my conversation with my new friends at the next table, one of whom was none other than Terre Blair, the wife of the late Marvin Hamlisch ("You teach music? That's awesome! My late husband was actually a composer. Do you know A Chorus Line?"), I decided I needed one more drink, and ordered their Armagnac cocktail, which was like a Manhattan. Hannah misheard me, though, and thought I wanted a glass of Armagnac, so she said "oh well, consider this an Armagnac sidecar on me!" By 5:15pm I'd been there nearly five hours, and my fabulous conversation with new friends Terre and Peter had to come to an end because they were setting tables up for dinner service.
As a "subscriber," I was gifted a lovely little box with a postcard with a beautiful photo taken on the Stone Barns property signed by all four chefs from the first residency series, and including little spice treats from each chef––fragrant uziza peppercorns from Chef Shola, a creole spice mix from Chef Omar, spicy New Mexican chilis from Chef Johnny, and a Chilean spice blend from Chef Victoria. What a lovely way to conclude the first residency!
I later learned that I am the only subscriber, or person who attended all four meals, to fly from out of state to dine at these chef residencies. I have to say that it has been more than worth every dollar spent. I almost feel like I have a little family at Stone Barns. Every time I visit, I am treated so warmly, and I have gotten to know the staff and the practices of the place so well that I look forward to visiting more than just about anything in my life. On the drive back to New York City, I found myself so happy that I couldn't stop myself from grinning from ear to ear. What a remarkable place. What a remarkable series of chefs and meals. What remarkable people.
I can't wait to see what the next residency series holds. My summer will be busy, but I am hopeful my travel schedule will allow me time to come back and visit for each of the new residencies, and experience the bounty of new seasons at Stone Barns!