The Local Food Report: Local Wednesdays

What would you do with the back half of a pig? I would throw it in the frying pan.

Chef Robert Lionette, who cooks over on the Vineyard, would brine the hams. And throw the bones into a stock for soup, and smoke the smaller pieces for sandwiches. He doesn't let a single scrap of animal go to waste, ever. In fact, it's sort of a motto for him: not just with meat, but with fruits and vegetables too.

It's not exactly surprising knowing his pedigree. When you come from a family that owns a market like Boston's Lionette, you start to espouse these sorts of beliefs. Or rather, you've always held them; they emerge with you, from the womb.

Lionette Market sells local food in the South End all year round, operating on the premise that New England can feed itself. It used to have a cafĂ© attached, where Robert cooked with the market's supply, but then the neighborhood got all trendy and the rent went up. Instead, he moved to the Vineyard, and started cooking with local food there. He thinks—grab your hats—that not only can New England feed itself, but that the Vineyard can feed itself. He gives a little I-know-I'm-crazy grin when he says it, but you can tell he's not kidding. Not even a little bit.

He's starting, of course, by cooking with local food at the restaurant where he works: Zephrus Restaurant, which belongs to the Mansion House Inn in Vineyard Haven. In the summer, he puts up tomatoes and dries peaches and freezes fruit if he can, but otherwise, he works by the seasons. When I visited a few weeks ago, it was "Local Wednesday;" an evening on which every week Lionette and Island Grown Initiative, a non-profit that works to increase both the supply and demand for locally grown food on the island, team up to serve an all local meal. For these events, local is a 200 mile radius that starts at home.

I had a whelk stew with clams and ricotta dumplings, molasses glazed duck drumettes with smoked duck breast and duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes, and an island dried peach and apple bread pudding. I am still thinking about the peaches and the way they tasted with a little bit of crumbly crust on top and vanilla ice cream dripping down their sides. They were awfully good.

In addition to eating, I also got to meet all kinds of interesting people at dinner, including Ali Berlow, who helped found Island Grown Initiative in 2005. She and a group of farmers and grocers and chefs and educators and parents all got together, and thought: What if we could connect everyone through what they eat?

So far, they've done a pretty amazing job. They post an island map every year to help lead people to producers and farmers, and have taken big steps towards re-establishing a year-round local food network on the island. Their big projects this year include working to get locally grown food into schools, driving around a mobile poultry processing trailor in an effort to provide a safe and legal slaughterhouse for local farmers, and working with the Brazilian community to see what crops from their native country will grow in Vineyard soil. As you can see, it's quite the operation.

Island Grown's partnership with Lionette is an effort to engage the community in the heart of these efforts. I don't know about you, but I am rarely so engaged in anything as when I'm eating a three course gourmet meal. It's a brilliant tactic, I think.

You can find out what's on the menu this week by clicking here, or by calling the restaurant up. And if you want to know more about Ali's organization, you can head on over here. Any other questions, well, you can throw those at me.

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.