Although the “farm-to-table” concept has caught on as a national trend, it is hardly new to Vermont chefs. Three of my favorite chefs, a German, Italian and Swede, would rather source local purveyors than import exotic foods from around the world. Why is that so important to them? Although I had an idea of how they would answer my question, I was fascinated to learn how they developed their opinions and differed in perspectives.
“It’s not just about fresh produce,” says Christoph Wingensiefen, Executive Chef at Stoweflake, “it’s also about being environmentally responsible. Think about the resources and energy it takes to transport a product across the country or overseas. Not to mention the chemicals used to be sure they survive the journey. Buying local just makes good sense on all levels.”uncommon to see him in Stoweflake’s labyrinth garden with an eager-to-learn chef hand picking fresh herbs for the daily soup. He simply loves teaching the principle of using the highest quality and most natural resources available. Those that have had the pleasure to learn from him have never forgotten his unique lessons.
Formerly, Wingensiefen was chef instructor at the renowned New England Culinary Institute after performing his skills throughout Germany and the U.S., including the Ritz-Carlton, Golfclub Schloss Luedersburg and the Homestead Golf & Ski Resort. Wingensiefen concludes, “What it comes really comes down to is choice. I can serve you food that has been on a truck for a week or local produce that is delivered daily. But decide for yourself,” as he handed me a fork to try my favorite mixed greens and salmon salad. “Taste the difference.”
Chef Owner, Tony De Vito, born and raised in Terracina, Italy, learned early from his family that harvesting fresh ingredients were the only way to prepare food. Even today, he grows his own tomatoes and herbs on the deck of his farmhouse restaurant, Trattoria La Festa, in Stowe. He added, “We are pretty lucky to live in a place where each season brings a bountiful array of beautiful food. I love to create my Italian family’s recipes using Vermont-raised poultry, meats, cheeses and, of course, my tomatoes!”
After moving to the U.S. as a teenager, De Vito learned “hands on” what fresh really meant. “It’s amazing I have all ten fingers,” Tony says, laughing, as hewaves a snappy two-pound lobster in my face. “I prepared 200-300 of these guys every weekend at Fantasia Restaurant as ‘Lobster Boy’. To this day, I detour lobster tanks by at least 300 ft.!”
It was at Fantasia that De Vito launched his education and appreciation for excellence in cuisine with promotions from Lobster Boy to line cook, banquet chef and so on. De Vito went on to prosper in his career with experience at the Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Bay Tower Room, Grille 23, Brae Burn Country Club and Dertads.
Perhaps the most inspirational farm-to-table story of the past decade is that of Chef Jeffrey Weiss and Pete’s Greens, a four-season organic vegetable farm in Craftsbury, Vermont.
Jeff Weiss, Chef Owner of Tastings Food & Spirits in North Troy explains, “I began working with Pete in 1990. I had just moved to Vermont, was in search of local produce, and Pete was just starting out. We quickly established a great relationship because we both knew that naturally grown, local produce was not only flavorful, but also held tremendous economic and health benefits for the community.”
The partnership escalated a couple of years ago when Pete’s Greens was in need for organic land because they lost its underinsured barn in a tragic fire. Most of us remember the community outreach to help them recover, but it was Weiss that gave them a new home.
As we walked through the fields, Weiss reflects, “But it wasn’t until after I opened my restaurant that I realized how fortunate I was. Not many chefs have the opportunity to see so much beautiful produce growing in their back yard, to be certain what foods are at their peak freshness and then to be able to create a spectacular dish with excellent flavor and quality.”
Weiss’ parents, from Stockholm, Sweden and NYC, encouraged him as he earned his degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales, RI. Weiss went on to gain his 5-diamond experience at the Class Pa Hornet and Matpalatset in Stockholm, Hyatt Regency, Hilton Head, and several Ritz-Carlton locations. His tenure in Vermont included the world class Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa, and now, his life’s dream, Tastings.
As I interviewed these three outstanding chefs, I was not surprised that they are truly committed to patronizing Vermont foodpurveyors whenever possible. But what I didn’t know is that this German, Italian and Swede shared a deep, personal passion for the “farm-to-table” concept long before they arrived in Vermont. It is their life-long dedication to cherishing the earth, eat from its fruit—and my favorite part—share their delectable, magnificent, nutritious creations with us.