Sisters Jenna and Nora Rice, a food photographer and a chef, have just published an e-cookbook which features recipes from 15 Vermont chefs and is being sold to raise funds for Vermont Restaurant Strong Fund.
VRSF is providing $1,000 grants to restaurant employees who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We hoped to make something that would both help people stuck at home create something fun to eat, while also helping our struggling industry. We have really put our hearts and souls into this project,” Jenna said.
When the two sisters found themselves with time on their hands after their industries ground to a halt, they put their skills to work to create the Vermont chefs-based cookbook. Nora cooked each recipe and Jenna took the photos and designed the cookbook.
“We set up a makeshift photo studio on Nora’s porch, so that we could maintain our social distance while working on the project,” Jenna said.
“I made all of these recipes in my home kitchen. People who are at home should be able to have fun creating these restaurant style meals with the tools that they have in their kitchens.” Nora said. “I especially enjoyed making the Heath Bar cake because it’s from the Skunk Hollow Tavern just a quarter mile from where I grew up, and the ramp potato soup from Michael’s on the Hill Restaurant because it gave me a good excuse to go foraging along the Connecticut River, which is so beautiful this time of year,” Nora said.
Like many Vermonters, the stay-at-home order has left Jenna and Nora mostly out of work. Jenna, who owns Jenna Rice Creative in Weathersfield, is a professional photographer who specializes in photography for the food and beverage businesses, restaurants, distilleries, and farms.
“I am still working part time with a few clients, but for the most part my work has dried up. I have been grateful for the work that I do still have, but I have certainly had some extra time on my hands,” she said.
“For my clients, I do graphic design, photography and web design. I work mostly with businesses that need quality creative work, but are not big enough to keep a full-time ‘creative director’ on the payroll,” Jenna said.
Nora is a recent graduate of the Ashburton Chefs Academy in Devon, England. After finishing school she moved to Seattle, Washington where she worked at the Herb Farm restaurant in Seattle that specializes in farm to table.
“Unfortunately, because of the pandemic they stopped serving in mid March and I came home to Vermont to be closer to family. Growing up in Vermont I worked on a neighbor’s dairy farm and have always been interested in farms and cooking with farm to table restaurants being the prefect intersection of the two,” Nora said.
“The recipes in Isolate and Create VT are all over the map, but each one is equally delicious. I know many of the chefs who have contributed recipes through my own work. I have also partnered with The Vermont Fresh Network to connect with more chefs throughout the state,” Nora said.
Vermont Restaurant Strong has raised $101,749 of its $500,000 goal. The Vermont effort is part of the national Restaurant Strong Fund which was started by the Greg Hill Foundation of Woburn, Massachusetts with help from Samuel Adams brewery. Currently, 20 states have restaurant strong programs. The total raised so far is $3.2 million. Samuel Adams donated over $2 million to kickstart the program. Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut have state programs. The goal is to provide grants to 50,000 restaurant workers. To date, over 107,000 people have applied. The grant request deadline is closed for now. A committee at Greg Hill Foundation selects the winners. Priority goes to those determined most needy.
To qualify for grant assistance, a restaurant employee must have been a full-time employee (minimum of 30 hours total per week, can be multiple restaurants) and have been employed for at least three months at the same location.
Carlos Ocasio, co-owner of Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland with his wife Gretchen, said his restaurant sent their Heath Bar crunch recipe because it has been in Gretchen’s family for many years.
“It’s an old family recipe from their bakery in Nantucket,” Ocasio said.
Skunk Hollow closed on Feb. 29, a few days before the state mandate. “We saw the handwriting on the wall and thought it was best that we close the restaurant,” he said. Eleven people were laid off, six wait staff, three kitchen workers and two bartenders.
Since the closure, Skunk Hollow has held four “pop up” events for charity. The restaurant staff cooks full meals that are available at curbside. The proceeds go to charity. So far the restaurant had donated over $10,000 with the money going to Vermont Food Bank, Hartford food shelf, and Vermont farm workers.
Jenny Williams, owner of Artisan Eats, of Windsor, a catering business that specializes in farm to table meals, said she choose her quiche recipe because it can be made with all local products.
“Quiche is a great way to utilize local products. The eggs, the cheese, the vegetables even the flour is local,” she said.
The pandemic shutdown has been very hard on her business, which she started two years ago. “To be honest, I have no idea what the future looks like. I hope to continue but it is unclear what will happen.”
The restaurant and bar business, a major player in Vermont’s economy, has been hit especially hard by the COVID-19. Restaurants are not considered “essential businesses” and can sell by takeout only.
According to Betsy Bishop, president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, before the pandemic closures there were approximately 1,413 restaurants in the state that employed 18,900 people and generated $600 million in annual sales.
“I don’t know how many are laid off, but it is a high percentage,” Bishop said.
The cookbook, Isolate & Create VT, is available at jennarice.net/shop