How do you manage to maintain your commitment to serving locally
produced food in the dead of winter in northern Vermont?
Actually, there is a period of time during the year when there is
absolutely nothing growing here in the Northeast
Kingdom. That is just a fact of life for us. But one of our secrets is that
the farms that have planned ahead -- and there are quite a few
around here these days -- are doing something that has been done for
generations, which is cold storage. So I have quite an array of root
vegetables that were grown over the summer and into the fall, and I
am drawing on those until the new things become available in the
spring. Everything from
rutabagas and onions and garlic and five different varieties of
turnips, and like five different varieties of carrots, and at least
a dozen varieties of potatoes. They are in cold storage but they are
just as beautiful as they were when they came right out of the ground.
Rutabagas aren’t something that most Americans ordinarily eat.
What do you do with rutabagas?
We make a really fantastic soup with rutabagas and another cold
storage item, apples. We have been running that off and on at the
restaurant. It has onions and garlic and locally sourced cream, and
we serve it with great cheddar crisps from Vermont
Milk Company, which is less than a mile from the restaurant, and
some smoked paprika oil on top. Rutabagas also play a role in the
vegetable pot pie and vegetable tagine that are on the menu now. So
that's where rutabagas come into play.
In the five years that you’ve been in Vermont, have you noticed an
increase in availability of locally produced foods in the winter in
response to demand from restaurants like Claire’s that are
committed to buying locally?
Absolutely. But it's not just restaurants that are sparking the
trend. People in their own communities are becoming more attuned to
the local food movement and are creating demand from farmers. There
are farmers markets that are now going year-round, even in the dead
of winter, where they are doing exactly what I was talking about
with cold storage crops that they are selling to the public that is
starving for those types of items.
The Hardwick community seems to be quite well educated about
seasonal cuisine, judging from some of the recent press reports
about the thriving local food scene in the area. But do you still
encounter clueless customers at Claire’s who expect tomatoes in
We do, but I would say that nine times out of 10, it is not the
local customer but an out-of-town customer who, for instance, with
their burger would like a bit of lettuce and tomato in the month of
January. We apologize to them and tell them that we have some local
sprouts that are amazing and are green. One of the great things we
have is lots of folks who do sprouts of all different varieties.
They do it throughout the year, but particularly at this time of
year. We use them as garnish but they also figure prominently in a
salad we serve with carrots, black radishes, pistachios, blue cheese
and a cider mustard vinaigrette. We also add them to the baked
fusilli and sheep's cheese in their natural form, and in the form of
a pesto, as well. When there's so much snow on the ground,
anything that is green is a wonderful sight for sore eyes and a
harbinger of spring, which is just around the corner. Sprouts get us
through this time of year when people are so hungry for something
green, and there just isn't anything out there. Sprouts are a great
What is some of the earliest local springtime produce that you are
looking forward to serving in your restaurant?
A: There is a farmer by
the name of Pete Johnson who is in the neighboring town of Craftsbury. Pete’s Greens is the
name of his farm. He actually last week put in his first crop –
greenhouse, of course – of mesclun greens, and those are going to
be available probably in about three weeks I will have the first of
the season greens coming from him before the end of March, so
that’s very exciting.