Excerpt from a conversation with Chef Matt Jennings while driving from Middlebury to Vergennes, Vermont. We are fairly certain he knew he was being taped.
Vermont encompasses the food movement that’s occurring in this country right now. I see it as the epicenter for both the food artisan and the farmer. Agriculture has always been, and is still, such a high priority in the state, and that’s reflected in the food here.
The amazing food landscape and the community are the reasons why I wanted to focus on this part of the world. We’re seeing a renaissance in Vermont, with more and more small-batch artisans who are committed to making only one or two products that come directly from their land or from their farms. This approach is not new to Vermont artisans, as they have been accustomed to living off the land for generations.
Places like Vermont are leading the progressive food movement. The foods that are being made with the most care and attention to detail are foods from the producers who want to get back to healthy eating and the artistry of crafting great foods. And these are the priorities we see in the state.
I went to New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, where I was taught a lot of these same ideals. Whether I was foraging in the woods with an instructor or breaking down an animal in my meat fabrication courses, we were always led to believe that we could only be as good a cook as the ingredients allowed.
Coming back to Vermont reminds me of that mentality and the importance of ingredients — that’s what I am hoping to share with my visits to micro producers in Vermont. It’s not about making the highest quantity of food or making it in the most efficient manner. It’s about harkening back to older techniques, having patience, learning constantly, and delivering a quality product with pride.
These producers are the fabric of food in our country. In America there is a real skew toward the industrialization of food, which is a relatively new phenomenon. And it’s not the way that we should be trending.
The people who maintain the focus on the craftsmanship of real food in our country often get overlooked. I want to highlight these champions of the real food movement in this country. These are the people who are working every day to put food onto tables that is wholesome, ingredient driven, clean, safe, delicious, and has a real focus on history and heritage and culture. We’re losing a great part of that in our country, and many of us are desperately trying to find ways to bring it back.
I always tap into my inner Vermonter when I’m composing plates in my own restaurant or at my home. Wanting to procure the freshest ingredients is something that I’ve carried with me throughout my career.
At our restaurant, Farmstead Inc. in Providence, Rhode Island, we are completely ingredient driven. The Vermont culture that exists around food has same ethos shared in my restaurant — small-production items, made by hand, from scratch, every day.
I chose to spotlight Michael Lee at Twig Farm, Andy Jackson at Middlebury Chocolates, John Kimmich at The Alchemist, and Pete Colman at Vermont Salumi, because these are food renaissance men.
There’s kind of a personal dedication not just to the ingredients but to the craft and to the process. They want to create a lifestyle for themselves where they can pour heart and soul into a product and have that product support them. In turn, they are supporting their craft, their heritage, and the generations that have come before them.
A lot of people talk about a cook’s passion, but I describe it as an obsession. We are never quite satisfied. We always feel that there are more techniques to master. It’s the same for Michael, Andy, John, and Peter. They’re never quite satisfied with the quality of their craft. They are their own toughest critics, their harshest educators. They pursue avenues to create new ideas for themselves and their brands and to do justice to their product. That’s what resonates with me.