Gleaming shreds of orange carrots sautÃ© with a flash of hot yellow flame. Simmering, spiced apple and walnut sauce drenches blue cheese ravioli and turkey meatballs. Tangy blueberry balsamic vinaigrette is sprinkled over stuffed turkey and cheddar cheese.
A different kind of competition was held in Huden Dining hall at Castleton State College, Tuesday Oct. 2. Not the kind that required muscles, the kind that required taste. Taste from locally produced food.
Students lined up at the tables of the six Vermont state colleges competing in The Localvore Challenge, the first even of its kind held at Castleton State College.
Judged and voted by the students and incoming faculty, each schools’ Sodexo chefs and personnel competed to create the most sumptuous meal they could with local food at their fingertips. From the butter to the kohlrabi, the goat cheese to the pulled pork. It’s all local.
“The mac and cheese was good,” Sophomore Seth Harrington said, referring to Keene State College’s macaroni and cheese over pulled pork in a waffle cone. “The pulled pork was phenomenal.”
Sam Johnson, a freshman in criminal justice, said he “loved” Lyndon State’s ravioli.
“Sam doesn’t know what’s good for him,” Freshman Kevin Santora said across the table. “He should have got one of these,” indicating to the aforementioned mac and cheese over pulled pork.
Students felt that the competition was a nice break from the regular foods served at Huden. Some felt the tastes were a bit too innovative.
Santora didn’t find Norwich University’s apple compote to be very appetizing so he went for the pulled pork twice. Liz Young, a freshman in business accounting, felt Castleton’s smoked bacon was “a little weird,” but thought its sweet breading was the best part.
Brandon Allen, a sophomore in accounting, walked into Huden just after getting up at noon without a clue in the world with what was going on.
“There’s too many vegetables for me to want to vote,” Allen said opting for the ravioli.
Minutes later, Allen walked by with a plate of Vermont Technical College’s Misty Knoll turkey salad with Cabot Cheddar and blueberry balsamic vinaigrette.
“They scared me away, but I went back,” Allen said. “This is the best thing. Get the veggie platter.”
For the competition, each of the schools was given a protein provided by a locally sourced farm that was distributed by Black River Produce. Over 80 local farms and companies contribute to Black River Produce, and many of them were featured on Tuesday.
For instance, the goat cheese creme drenching Castleton’s chicken roulade with smoked bacon and corn muffin crumbles was provided by Troy Peabody’s goats of Trevin Farms. Peabody also works for Sodexo in Huden Dining Hall.
“That’s about as fresh and local as it gets,” Castleton Chef Chuck Brooks said.
A total of 440 votes were cast during the competition from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., but Vermont Technical College’s Bryant Palmer, a sous chef, was expected more to show.
“I’m very happy with the turnout, I was just anticipating more people. Where are you going to get an all-you-can-eat for 5 dollars and 85 cents?”
Though students decide the Localvore Challegen, Sodexo District Chef Rob MacFarlane and District Marketing Specialist Rich Blanchard vote as part of a larger competition for the Harty Cup which will be decided next summer.
For them, the competition is more than just about voting for the best, but for advertising a new way to present food on a local level.
“It’s about celebrating culinary passion and ideas,” MacFarlane said. Local food is so important to the whole state of Vermont.”
Blanchard said that getting local farm food into the institutions is very important and added that it can be very difficult for farms to get picked up by distributors. That’s why Vermont leads the Farm to Plate Initiative (F2P) on the East Coast, funded by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, and why Black River Produce is such an integral part to the whole process of providing local foods.
“This is what Vermont has to offer,” Blanchard said.
When the competition finally ended at 2 p.m., Huden was suddenly quiet and empty, but the aromas still hung in the air.
Before the competition, former 2010 Castleton graduate, Dustin Smith, a Norwich University Sous Chef, was feeling pretty confident about the competition featuring Vermont Family Farm’s pork for creating pulled pork sliders.
“This is what I love to do and I’m doing it at the school that I graduated,” Smith said. It makes me feel that much more at home. It’s like my two worlds colliding.”
When tallying finally finished, Castleton was the winner followed by Keene State, Norwich, Johnson State, Lyndon State and Vermont Tech. Castleton’s win is a first-ever. No home team has ever won the challenge before.
“A lot of school pride here, you call tell,” Blanchard said when he revealed the results.
Jeff Kurto, general manager of Sodexo campus services, thought the turnout was awesome.
“Knowing that something like this went over so well with the students, we’re gonna research different things in the future,” Kurto said.
Though the pulled pork sliders didn’t outdo Castleton’s chicken, Smith was still happy to have had the chance to come back to his old stomping grounds.
Everything was killer,” Smith said. “If I was still going here, I would have loved it. It was exciting, fresh and new.”