Reflections from Vermont

Living the Ridgway by Tony Ridgway

I'm back from my three-week trek to Vermont with the family and have much to report. Maybe it's because I knew I was going to write about my experience, but during this trip I saw dining from two very different perspectives.

First, I cooked a meal at home almost everyday and was reminded of just how arduous and expensive the process is when you are trying to create excellent food and serve excellent wine for six or seven people!

The flip side of this is that we also made it a point to visit some of Vermont's better restaurants and this helped me develop a better understanding of food quality and preparation from a guest's perspective.

Here's my tale: I cancelled one reservation at a restaurant I really like because I did not want to dine at 8:45pm. I cancelled another reservation because the restaurant simply was not worth the major outlay of cash. At other establishments, I found myself being nit picky and critical of minor details. This all led to my vowing to cook a better meal at home the next night. Then I'd cook at home and get exhausted and we'd go out again!

At home, we experimented with Spinach Gnocchi twice. I learned more each time and will set out to play with the recipe again as I think it needs another attempt.

On the other end of the food spectrum we made doughnuts completely from scratch, hand kneading and all. I'm considering making them available at Ridgway and Tony's courtyard in the evenings. These are yeast doughnuts, not cakey ones. A perfect late-night snack.

Vermont is a great place to eat lots of wild mushrooms. We tasted and cooked with several variety including Chanterelle and Hen of the Wood.

I was constantly reminded of my obsession with the perfectly cooked plate of food. I'm not talking what was on the plate, but how the food was cooked. Reflecting on a previous post I made, a chef can plan a great plate, but it takes a great cook to prepare great food. Whether it was a grilled burger, grilled haddock or a perfectly roasted local organic chicken - perfection in cooking was and is my goal. The Misty Knoll Farms free-range chicken yielded the most beautiful crisp and brown skin I've ever seen. I could have simply peeled the skin off and dined on that!

In my last post I told you I was looking forward to the blueberries. Well I'm happy to say we hand picked blueberries and purchased Cortland and Honeycrisp apples from a local farmers market.

One of the most memorable evenings was when we made pasta and hung the noodles to dry on upside down stools. (Yes we cleaned the Vermont mud from the stools before we used them.) Homemade pasta and fresh roasted local chicken with local garden veggies and natural juices, what a treat!

Unfortunately, I have to mention that I ate the worst risotto in my life. It came with a two-ounce piece of Salmon on a salad that appeared to have been cooked some days prior. (I'll tell you in person where this was if you want to know.)

Alas, we ate at The Hen of the Wood's in Waterbury where I devoured the corn fritters with honey. I also love their little bites of baby Chioggia Beets simply blanched and served with a citrus pesto made from the beets' own greens.

Bottom line, I came back fully charged and ready to make Ridgway, Tony's and Bayside even better. And from my perspective they are already good. I love the idea that my motor is fully running and not necessarily with that many new ideas, but to improve on everything we do and to select a few choice treats to complement an already good menu.

Any chef can plan a good menu. Only a great restaurant can cook the food well every time. Cooking... that's what it's all about.

Experience what I'm talking about as a guest of a huge street party I'm throwing on Saturday, November 5, 2011 to recognize my 40th year in business. More details HERE!

-Tony

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