Hill Farm at Sagra
Chef's Seminar Food This Month Vol. 27 No. 03

Defying Expectations: Vermont Chef Proves Hyperlocal Cuisine Is Possible in Winter

When life hands you celery root, make celery root ice cream.


When life hands you celery root, make celery root ice cream.

This could be the unofficial motto of Austin Poulin, chef of Grange, the new restaurant at the luxury inn Hill Farm at Sagra in Sunderland, Vermont. Poulin’s commitment to hyperlocal food sourcing means walking the talk about farm-to-table menu planning—even if that means upping the creative ante once New England’s notoriously short growing season draws to a close.

Poulin, a Vermont native who worked in the kitchens of the Michelin-starred Albi in Washington, D.C., and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Tarrytown, New York, joined the Sagra team last spring. At the circa-1780 dairy farm–turned–boutique hotel located on 70 rolling acres in the Equinox Mountain Valley, he has developed menus featuring 90 percent local products. “Eight out of the nine farms we work with are within a 45-minute drive,” Poulin says. “They’re supplying everything I need for protein, vegetables, and dairy.”

Photo: Gab Herman

The farm has its own onsite gardens, which produce a few thousand pounds of vegetables in the summer and fall. They recently added two winterized greenhouses for growing greens. A heating system is being installed in one greenhouse, allowing Duch to propagate seeds in the spring.

While the restaurant was still under construction, Poulin thought ahead to preserve the harvest. He pickled, preserved, and fermented frequently used crops, such as peppers, green tomatoes, eggplant, and Cherantais melons. The chef also overgrew okra, then harvested the gelatinous seeds. These were cooked in a bit of vinegar and canned for later use as vegan “caviar.”

The bright acidity of the fermented foods livens up Grange’s winter menu, which is heavy on root vegetables and storage crops. At the moment, Poulin is particularly keen on local baby carrots, which he roasts whole and grills to finish. As for the celery root? It’s going into both schnitzel—cooked whole, sliced, then breaded and fried—and ice cream. “It’s fun to play around with these components. I think a lot of people don’t realize vegetables can be used in sweet applications.”

To manage food costs, which Poulin admits are higher than for the average restaurant, the chef focuses on reducing waste and “providing more value for what we’re buying.” He purchases whole animals or sides and uses nearly all parts. For example, a recent bone-in New York strip purchase yielded tenderloin on the backside that was transformed into beef tartare.

The menu at Grange changes twice a week and offers a handful of curated selections made for sharing. Large plates serving two or three diners are priced around $42, while mini plates cost $9. The names of farm partners are included on the menu to share a sense of place with customers and cultivate an appreciation of the hands that grow the food.

“I think the network is the most important thing,” Poulin says. “We spent months going out and meeting people, shaking their hands, touring their farms, and understanding how their practices are working and evolving. Supporting these farms isn’t going to solve all our problems in the food industry, but it’s a step toward finding a way for everyone in the community to work and thrive.”

Photo Credits:
Cover: Oliver Parini

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Robin Catalano is an experienced travel, arts, culture, and food journalist, and a book author/editor based in the upper Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, TIME, Smithsonian, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR, Hemispheres, Robb Report, Bon Appetit, Fodor's, ROVA, Insider, Boston Globe, Albany Times Union, and a variety of other national and regional publications. A member of the Society of American Travel Writers and the International Federation of Journalists, she was selected as the summer 2020 Writer-in-Residence at Arrowhead, the historic home of Herman Melville in Pittsfield, Mass. This year, she was a finalist for the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association's Excellence in Journalism Award. Visit her at robinwriter.com and oncemoretotheshore.com.

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