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Food & Drink: A Few Questions for Jessica Wright

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Q&A, Taste of the Landscape No Comments

Chef-owner of Hender’s Bake Shop and Café, which opened in July in Waterbury.

Jessica Wright, chef-owner of Hender's Bake Shop and Cafe in Waterbury. Photograph by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

Jessica Wright, chef-owner of Hender’s Bake Shop and Cafe in Waterbury. Photograph by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur.

VL: Did you know you wanted to cook professionally from early on?
JW: In Cape Cod, where I grew up, my family owned a bed-and-breakfast and then a coffee shop, where I’d eat muffins every morning waiting for the school bus. After that, my parents catered and ran a restaurant at a golf course. I knew I wanted to go to culinary school, even though my parents tried to talk me out of it. They said, “You’ve seen our lives, how hard we work.” We basically lived at the restaurant; there was no food at home.

VL: How did you end up in Vermont?
JW: I was working in San Diego as an assistant pastry chef in a very busy place that did two concerts every night, serving a full high-end dinner each show. We’d do one dinner and then have 30 minutes to prep for the next one. It was like “Groundhog Day” every day. My sister and brother-in-law were opening a hostel in Warren and asked if I wanted to be their chef. I said yes immediately. It turned out they didn’t need a full-time chef, but I was so glad to be back near my family, and I just fell in love with Vermont: the local food movement, the healthy lifestyle.

VL: Your bake shop has a case full of sweet pastries as well as sandwiches, salads, granola and even house-baked dog treats inspired by your dog Henderson, after whom the shop is named. Any family connections to any of those recipes?
JW: Food has always been a family affair for us, cooking meals together, calling each other about new recipes.
I couldn’t have opened this place without the help of my family. My roasted turkey Thanksgiving sandwich is
in honor of one my mom always had on her golf course restaurant menu, made with from-scratch stuffing and my grandma’s recipe for cranberry sauce with apples and lemon zest. My mom’s blueberry muffin and crumb cake recipes are also really popular. My raspberry-chocolate-chip coffee cake is based on one of [my great-grandma’s] recipes. And my sister came up with the idea for my chocolate-mocha snack cakes.

VL: You make the pottery you serve on in your bake shop. How long have you been doing that?
JW: About three years ago, when I was working in Burlington, I had three days off a week and was baking too much at home. I love baking, but I was eating too much of it. A friend introduced me to a pottery studio, and I just got hooked. I love the creativity, that it’s hands on, the feel and the touch of it. It’s very similar to baking in some ways. I just got it. So many customers kept asking about the pottery, I’m selling some now.

VL: Anything you’ve learned since you’ve opened your own place?
JW: Yes, that how you name and label things is really important. I make these really awesome vegan peanut butter bars. They weren’t selling at all. I replaced the big “vegan” on the label with a tiny sticker and now they’re doing great.

Mission Accomplished

Written by Matt Crawford on . Posted in Entrepreneurs, Taste of the Landscape

Imagined while at war, soldier’s dream becomes reality as military-minded brewery takes hold in St. Albans

Photographed by Gary Hall

It is — as Billy Joel sang in his ’70s hit “Piano Man” — a pretty good crowd for a Saturday. Except it isn’t Saturday — it’s the middle of the week in northern Vermont and the crowd at 14th Star Brewery spills from the hardwood bar to the picnic table seating to the back room where about 30 people, predominantly women, take part in a directed art exercise marketed as “Paint and a Pint.”

Over the shoulders of the beer drinkers at the bar, the regular crowd shuffles in, queuing up to have their half-gallon glass growlers filled. Some quiz the bartenders about new beers on tap, some swill small samples before deciding on what brew to bring home to tide them over until the weekend.

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Andrea Gagner, CEO of 14th Star, spearheaded the growth of the company, which now rings up annual sales of $2.5 million.

Andrea Gagner is slinging beers tonight. She’s actually the CEO of the brewery, but as the painters and the regulars commingle in the taproom, she’s pouring pints ofValor ale and Tribute double IPA, ringing up sales at the register.

Located in the heart of downtown St. Albans, 14th Star Brewery is a part of Vermont’s thriving craft beer industry. In four short years, an idea that was hatched during downtime between patrols in Afghanistan has grown from a part-time operation into a company with a reported $2.5 million in annual sales. But there’s more to it than that. 14th Star’s ascension is a case study in small business success, a central figure in downtown St. Albans’ aggressive revitalization and a reliable partner for numerous charitable causes, especially those focused on veterans.

The genesis of 14th Star begins in a small outpost east of Bagram Airfield, a sprawling U.S. military base in Afghanistan, where Steve Gagner was serving. There, he would often come under sporadic and usually inaccurate rocket fire from Taliban troops, but there was also plenty of that hurry-up-and-wait that the U.S. Army is famous for. In those monotonous moments an idea took shape.

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Recipe: Leek and Fennel Cream

Written by Melissa Pasanen on . Posted in Recipes

Leek and Fennel Cream
This relatively simple combination simmers up to a sumptuous and versatile sauce that is far more than the sum of its parts. Michael Orfan presents it under seared scallops, halibut or salmon at his restaurant and also with roast chicken or stuffed into trout. We cooled it and spread some over meaty filets of cod before baking them. Warm, it also makes a stellar stand-in for hollandaise in smoked-salmon eggs Benedict and works beautifully as a pasta sauce to complement sautéed sweet, pink shrimp, as pictured.
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Ingredients
  1. 2 medium leeks (about ¾ pound total)
  2. 1 large (about ¾ pound) fennel bulb, ideally with fresh-looking fronds
  3. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  4. ¼ cup very thinly sliced shallot
  5. 1½ tablespoons very thinly sliced garlic
  6. ½ cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
  7. ¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt, 
plus more to taste
  8. ⅔ cup heavy cream
  9. ¼ teaspoon white pepper
Instructions
  1. Trim root and tough dark green ends from leeks. Slice leeks in half lengthwise and then slice into fine julienne, like thick spaghetti, keeping the pieces as long as you can but don’t worry if some are shorter. Wash well in a colander, working out any sand trapped between layers. Shake dry. Trim stalks from fennel bulb. Finely chop about 2 tablespoons of the fronds and set aside. Slice fennel very thinly crosswise, discarding tough core pieces. You should have roughly the same volume of each vegetable.
  2. Melt butter in a large sauté pan set over medium-low heat. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened but not colored, about 5 minutes. Add wine and increase heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until most of liquid has simmered away, about 5 minutes. Add leeks and fennel to pan and toss to combine with shallot and garlic. Add the salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened but not colored, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft and cream has reduced, leaving only a little liquid, about 12–15 minutes. Fold in about 1 tablespoon of the reserved fennel fronds. Season with white pepper and more salt to taste. Yields about 2 cups of sauce, enough for 8–12 ounces of pasta, such as pappardelle, or to accompany four servings of fish or chicken. Use remaining fennel fronds as garnish.
Notes
  1. Photo by Ken Burris.
Adapted from Chef-owner Michael Orfan, Rustic Roots, Shelburne
Adapted from Chef-owner Michael Orfan, Rustic Roots, Shelburne
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