Sunday, June 1, 2008

Some Vermont Culinary History

Having the good fortune of living in these Green Mountains has allowed us to forage and use locally raised ingredients for over three decades. In 1974 as young restaurateurs in Woodstock we readily accepted beefalo meat from local farmer, Orson St. John. The Rumble Seat Beefalo Burgers turned out to be a big hit. That was our first foray into what is known now as the loca(l)vore world. Back then we were also interested in wild mushrooms, but we only knew about Chef Joseph Schenker of The Barnard Inn who foraged for c├Ępes. We were delightfully envious of his finds and wished to learn more. Finally now and for the past decade we have a wild mushroom forage every Labor Day.

In the early ‘80’s we were tuned into the nascent culinary revolution in California and New York City. We too wanted to make an American statement of dining in a here-to-fore European discipline, but we loved living in Vermont, so we looked to indigenous animals and produce and searched out more local farmers: rabbit from Rutland, venison from Strafford, but a pheasant was to be our logo and we wanted it on the menu, yet we could not find a local farm. For a number of years we drove weekly from Killington to Brattleboro to meet a pheasant farmer from Massachusetts. As you might guess we were thrilled when Rick Thomas from Cavendish Game Farm called to say he would raise pheasants in Vermont.

Another highlight at Hemingway’s was to serve the first farm-raised venison at our farmer's dinner in 1990, which we believe was an inspiration to the Vermont Department of Agriculture who pursued collaboration between chefs, farmers, and consumers with their Vermont Fresh Network. Subsequently in 2002 we had our first annual Vermont Farmer’s Harvest Dinner with farmers on hand to explain their history. Also we are proud to say some of the then BOD members of Vermont Fresh Network attended which likewise inspired VFN to follow our lead and host annual farmer dinners throughout the state.

We were also early investors in the only state producer of soft ripening cheese, the Guilford Cheese Company. We thought it was a slam-dunk because we collaborated with a major Vermont cheese company who hoped to further distribution. Alas they did not want to invest what it would take to market the ripe Camembert style for US consumer acceptance. Kudos goes to the Department of Agriculture who supported the priority of cheese makers, but too bad we got into the game too early!