East of Eden

Eden Specialty Ciders is, well, east of Eden.  In the Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Eden Specialty Ciders calls West Charleston their home, about 40 miles east of Eden, Vermont.

Last week, Chef Sandi from Champlain College and I were joined by chefs from Vermont restaurants like Misery Loves Company and farms like Vermont Cranberry Company to learn why Eden’s ice ciders offer some of Vermont’s most genuine terroir.

Read more about our visit at DigInVT.com …and while you’re there, take a minute to peruse other taste of Vermont experiences to check out every day of the year!

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Eden Specialty Cider tasting at the NEK Tasting Center in Newport, VT.
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En route to Eden Specialty Ciders, passing by Lake Willoughby with views of Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor.
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Chef Sandi enjoying a sample of the ice cider concentrate from Eden’s heirloom apples. They are busiest when the north is frozen!
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Fine Dining: It’s Not Just Found at Restaurants Anymore

Twenty years ago, Vermont restaurants began marketing their commitment to source local and fresh ingredients under the brand of the newly-minted Vermont Vermont Fresh NetworkFresh Network.  In many ways, this network brand was outside the realm of typical marketing strategies, largely because the widespread consumer hunt for local food was barely on the horizon.  Ahead of its time on the local food front, Vermont Fresh Network’s strongest emphasis, as prominently displayed in its name, was the other key word: ‘fresh’.

All good things are associated with ‘fresh’.

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Eric Rozendaal of Rockville Market Farm

Crisp, ripe, just picked/baked/chopped, high quality, good tasting.  Years before twelve-year-olds began asking their waiter where the roasted chicken on the menu came from, Vermont chefs and restauranteurs were looking to their trusted Vermont farmer neighbors to provide the freshest and highest quality ingredients.

 

Today, both in Vermont and around the country, institutions are doing the same thing.  “It has taken longer for our local food system to become robust enough to allow institutional kitchens to express their purchasing muscle within the system,” explains Meghan Sheridan, Executive Director of the Vermont Fresh Network.  “As Vermont’s food system continues to grow in size and diversity, it is ever more possible for institutional kitchens to source local and regional products.”

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Norwich Dining and UVM Dining visit Shelburne Farms

Vermont institutions are now qualifying to join the Vermont Fresh Network.  Four of
Sodexo’s Vermont campuses are Network members: University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College, Norwich University, and Champlain College.  In addition to membership, St. Michael’s, Norwich, and UVM join 51 other restaurants and a few institutions in receiving the recognition of Gold Barn Honorees, an award recognizing chefs who are exceptional partners with Vermont farmers. Explore the list of Vermont Fresh Network members and our fellow Gold Barn Honorees here.

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Champlain College serving up local Nitty Gritty Grain Cornmeal.

 

 

As demand for local and sustainable food in cafeterias continues to increase, “culinary excellence is much more of an expectation, cooking is an art and [today’s college student] appreciates a chef’s passion for their trade,” shares Melissa Jordan, Sodexo’s Vice President for Strategic Alliances.  “The days of preparing large masses of commercially purchased ingredients in the back kitchen, bringing it out front and ‘parking it under heat lamps’ is not going to fly with today’s college student,” says Jordan.

 

Chef Kate with Sugar on Snow Party
 

Executive Chef Kate Hays

 

The role of institutional chefs has become widely recognized and revered.  In a November 2015 Burlington Free Press article, the spotlight was on UVM Executive Chef Kate Hays.  “The progress we have made [in the] two and half years I’ve been there in terms of local food has been amazing,” Hays reflects on her experience in shifting from running restaurants to institutional kitchens.  Currently, UVM is in the process of opening a new dining hall that doubles as an educational center for sustainable and healthy food, and forging new partnerships with local producers.  “[We’re] really breaking all expectations,” says Hays.  Read the full interview here.

 

 

Serving thousands of meals per day throughout the year to diverse communities, institutional markets are seen by many in the food system world as the holy grail of local market opportunities.  While we cannot overlook the big questions still looming on the horizon, from institutional market viability for local businesses to optimizing food access for economically-challenged populations, we enjoy pausing for a moment to reflect on this evolution in institutional culinary trends.    From statewide recognition of our chefs for their culinary prowess to receiving best in class awards for volume of local purchasing, we are proud of our engagement and responsiveness to the Vermont community’s demand for culinary excellence in serving fresh, high quality, local food to our campus communities.

With this, we roll up our sleeves, dust off our aprons, and get back to work.

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St. Michael’s College slow-cooking 400lbs of local beef brisket from Black River Meats.

References:

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/life/food/2015/11/06/chefs-night-out-kate-hays/75106656/

http://www.smcvt.edu/news/2016/may/food-service-honored-for-vermont-product-use.aspx

http://www.vermontfresh.net/search-members/

Other Resources:

http://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/uvm-food-systems-summit-considers-localvore/Content?oid=3429884

http://www.foodservicedirector.com/ideas-innovation/emerging-trends/articles/3-takeaways-from-nra-shows-noncommercial-conference

http://www.foodservicedirector.com/ideas-innovation/emerging-trends/articles/5-ways-think-restaurateur-0?page=0%2C3

Keeping Farm-to-Table on the Table

Earlier this week, I came across an article called Is it Time to Table Farm-to-Table? by Corby Kummer, published in Vanity Fair. This article captures part of an unfortunate trend that questions the integrity of the local food movement.  Kummer went so far as to say that no one cares about where their food is from anymore: “That’s where the future of farm-to-table should be: food that speaks for itself without having to tell you where it comes from.” I read the article, starting writing about it, but couldn’t get beyond saying that it was just plain wrong.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was reading the article at the right time.  I was heading into a week of learning from people who would have some thoughts on this topic – and fairly opinionated thoughts at that.  On Wednesday at a local food campaign meeting put on by the Vermont Farm to Plate network, Megan Sheridan of the Vermont Fresh Network, measured up “that Vanity Fair article” as a case of the counter-local food movement missing the mark.

Yesterday, at the New England Food Summit in Boston, I was catching up with Scott Sawyer of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.  I couldn’t help but seek out his opinion on the article, and in the way I was secretly hoping he would, he brought it full circle.  Kummer offers a shallow review of what could be best categorized as a first world problem – tiring of too much of a good thing.  In Vermont, it has been just over five years since the launch of Vermont Farm to Plate, our state’s strategic plan.  We have made it through the first sprint, but now is the critical time to test our endurance and commitment to not be a trend but a fundamental shift.

Scott encouraged me to move my focus from Kummer to focus instead on some of the larger indicators of the real impact of our work in building a resilient food system.  He referenced evidence of large companies who are adapting to target a customer who is demanding fresh, sustainable, and local products.
“Like Sodexo?” I offered.

The purpose of our work in Vermont First is to keep the integrity in the words we use to describe our local and sustainable purchasing, building trust with and between our partners in the food system. We are part of the growing indicator that the local food movement is not just a short-lived trend.