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Graduation Season

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Taste of the Landscape


The May 2013 Community Kitchen Academy graduates. Photo by Melissa Pasanen.

It’s that graduation time of year, with varying degrees of pomp and circumstance accompanying the ritual of those moving on to the next phase of their lives, from preschoolers to college students and beyond.

A couple of weeks ago, I played a tiny role in this season of milestones when I spoke at a very special graduation of just five students. They were the 13th group to successfully complete the three-month Community Kitchen Academy program, a partnership between the Vermont Foodbank and the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, which educates underemployed and unemployed Vermonters for food service careers.

As an added bonus, while the students learn to julienne and sauté, they are also turning ingredients salvaged from local farms, restaurants, food service companies and retailers into nutritious meals to feed those at risk of hunger. This is made even more impactful by the fact that some CKA participants have been food shelf clients themselves.

I wrote a 2010 feature for Vermont Life on the program and was impressed with the rigorous curriculum — covering critical skills from food safety, to interview techniques, to teamwork — along with the resolve of participants to complete the program despite challenges in their lives. I have since joined their professional advisory board and, in 2012, CKA received Vermont State College accreditation and its graduates can earn nine college-level academic transfer credits, giving them a nice boost into higher education.

The menu prepared by the graduates. Photo by Melissa Pasanen

The menu prepared by the graduates. Photo by Melissa Pasanen.

Since the Burlington program was launched in 2009, 91 students have graduated, achieving an 87 percent success rate with job placement or going on to further education. In addition, students have prepared more than 116,000 portions of food for people in need. This July, the Foodbank in partnership with Central Vermont Community Action Council will expand to a second site in Barre.

While not all graduates end up working in food service, they all gain practical skills, valuable experience and confidence. As one young, single mom said to me, “Maybe my son will start eating my cooking. He’s into McDonald’s now.”

And that, as I said when I stood before the graduates and their numerous friends, family and other supporters, is really the most important thing they’ll take away with them. As I explained in my speech, over the years I’ve been writing about food, I’ve met a number of famous chefs who’ve cooked for presidents, royalty and movie stars, but ask any chef who he or she most enjoys cooking for and the answer will always be: “my family.” Whatever the future brings for the most recent set of CKA graduates, they leave the program with the confidence and ability to cook good food from scratch for those they love.

[Some of] the Best Things I Ate Last Year

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Taste of the Landscape

Photos by Melissa Pasanen.

Yes, it is a tough job — and yes, someone’s got to do it.

Part of my work as food editor for Vermont Life and as a freelance food writer is to travel around the state and taste lots of things at high-end restaurants and at roadside truck stops. I also cook a lot, often with Vermont-grown or Vermont-made ingredients.

The good news is that I get to eat delicious food. The bad news is that the phone photo layout app I used to make this photo only fits nine images, so I couldn’t possibly include every memorable bite I ate last year. (Although, as my ever-patient but occasionally frustrated husband will tell you, they are all on my phone.)

So, starting from the top left and going clockwise, some of the most delicious things I ate in Vermont last year:

• The special chef’s choice sushi sampler at San Sai on Burlington’s lakefront boasts perfectly fresh fish each with a little extra twist: red snapper with an egg yolk sauce, salmon with carrot sauce and tobiko, marinated white tuna. There’s also sushi pizza; I know it doesn’t sound purist, but don’t knock it until you try it.

• Last summer’s peaches from Shelburne Orchards were exactly what my memory tells me fresh, ripe peaches should be — only to be so often disappointed by mealy or under-ripe fruit shipped from far away. We joined swarms of locals who descended like bees on honey during weekly picking sessions for the short peach season.

• Successfully leveraging the momentum behind their food truck, the trio behind Misery Loves Company launched a bricks and mortar location in Winooski around Thanksgiving. Their multi-layered and multi-textured sandwiches are addictive. I believe this was the Dunnsky piled with house-cured corned beef, vinegar slaw and Thousand Island, but I’ve eaten them all and they are all very, very good including the vegetarian Peaceful Resolution. They recently started dinner, too and their lemon curd doughnuts are to die for.

• I was torn between two slices of pie but one photo was better and this pie slightly more to my taste (which tends to the tart-sweet rather than the sweet-sweet.) The lemon meringue pie is a classic made at Hinesburg’s Good Times Café; their key lime is also stand-out. The very close runner-up was a slice of maple cream pie eaten at the congenial counter of P&H Truck Stop in Wells River off of 91: tooth-achingly sweet with a really good flaky crust and piled with freshly whipped cream.

• I trekked to the Common Man in Warren at the urging of food-savvy friends in the Mad River Valley and was not disappointed. This ethereal Jerusalem artichoke soup with dehydrated black olive oil and fluffy lemon marshmallow cubes might sound like a chef’s indulgence, but it worked beautifully. For the less adventurous, Chef Adam Longworth also roasts a textbook-perfect chicken. (For more details, see the winter issue’s Out to Eat column.)

• These crispy smoked chicken skins with sake-mirin glaze are not always on the menu at The Belted Cow in Essex Junction but when they are, you should indulge. Chef John Delpha, a national barbecue champ, also offers his fine brisket regularly.

• Hen of the Wood in Waterbury remains one of my top recommendations for dinner and I’m chomping at the bit for the Burlington location to open in the new Hotel Vermont later this spring. Their calamari with lemon, basil and smoked chilies is gorgeously memorable in all ways.

• A rich duck egg from Guy Choiniere’s farm in Highgate Center, perfectly poached (easier with these eggs than chicken eggs I found) on a toasted slice of farm bread from Bread & Butter Farm, which straddles both South Burlington and Shelburne. So simple, so good.

• Most fall, winter and spring Sunday mornings in Underhill, you can pull up to the home-based bakery of Poorhouse Pies and smell the fresh doughnuts ― from French crullers to maple-glazed ― coming out of the fryer. There is simply not much better than fresh, handmade doughnuts.

What was the best thing you ate in 2012? Let us know on Twitter @VermontLife.

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