Barber said some of his fondest food memories involve eggs. After Barber's mother died when he was very young, his father would scramble eggs on rare weekend occasions. But his father's eggs were not the foundation for the renowned chef, even if the breakfasts came from love.
"I think it's fair to say he's not skilled behind the stove and the eggs were completely butchered," he said. "They weren't really scrambled and they were cooked in this really hot, cast-iron pan, with a fork scrapping the pan and they were just overcooked, they were as dry and as tough as a piece of cardboard, yellow cardboard. That's what I remember!"
But when he was sick with tonsillitis and his aunt offered to make him eggs, his first reaction was to stay far away from the yellow cardboard he'd come to know.
"I said no and she pleaded with me and finally she just went ahead and did it. And she is an incredible cook and she whisked the eggs over a double broiler and made these soft, unctuous, they were just clouds," he said. "And still in my taste memory, you know, I remember it going down my throat -- and it was the first thing I'd eaten in a few days. So that's probably the best recipe for a delicious meal. But I do remember them sliding down my throat and thinking, 'This is the greatest thing I've ever had!'"
The lesson Barber took away, however, was the importance of the effort put into the meal -- even if the results were less than edible. And that line of thinking comes in handy during Thanksgiving.
"I don't think the food, ultimately, is the most important. And as a chef, I probably shouldn't be saying that, but it isn't the most important," he said. "The reason for that is 'cause again it's about this context -- you know, to what extent are you creating a taste memory, and memories just in general of being with your family, and memories that stay with you for the rest of your life."
Barber said that the Thanksgiving tradition in his family was borne at the Great Barrington farm that his grandmother built and later generations went on to preserve and improve. It's now up to them, he said, to continue that work, creating memories for the next generation.
"Thanksgiving -- from the American point of view -- is this one holiday where food is central and food gets that context that feels very powerful," he said. "Historically, it's about our country. Agriculturally, it's about the harvest, about the plentifulness of the earth. Thanksgiving for me wraps in all of the things that I think a good restaurant tries to provide every day of the year -- celebration and continuity and tradition and delicious experience."
When asked what he would give thanks for this year, Barber chose the increased consciousness of food, saying that -- at the risk of sounding like his grandfather -- the way Americans look at food has changed so much in his lifetime.
"It's blessed, not just because chefs are taking more of a role in the way America eats, in the healthy and delicious way that America eats," he said. "But for all the other connections that are associated to food and agriculture -- global, environmental consequences, all of it ? health consequences, community consequences, political ramifications."
Of course it can't always be about good wholesome food. For Barber, sometimes it's all about the peanut butter. And the sugar.
"I'm a junk food junkie," Barber said.