When I started to share my new Young Adult novel with my writing critique group, everyone asked for more food descriptions. I have several scenes set in French restaurants and picnics in the California foothills. I knew there would be food in the story but not that food would somewhat play a role. Now that I’m deep into revision I realize that beyond the general “food” thing I intended to write about the value of nature, the impact of commercial real estate on our cities and towns, the importance of the places where we eat, whether they are homes, restaurants, or the outdoors. Of course, there is no way to develop each of these themes in one novel, especially for teenagers.
So, no, my new novel is not about food.
Food is often on my mind.
One thing I witnessed shortly after arriving in the US was how food seemed to be something people wanted to put out of their way. Grocery errands and cooking from scratch appeared to be a total waste of time. Eating was probably the same since I often saw people snacking or even having lunch in their cars and at the office while working. Also guilt was often associated with food. I had never heard the word “diet” as much as in the US.
“Are you done or still working on your plate?” is still the strangest American question one can ask me.
Since the 1990s when I was the weird mother who cooked and baked (nothing complicated at all), never used paper napkins, paper cups or plastic utensils when my kids’ friends came over for lunch, countless mothers and fathers have changed their cooking, eating and food culture habits.
The farm to table movement, the come back of farmers’ markets, the search for locally grown food contribute to reinforce the idea that we are what we eat and that food is more than just food. There is a true revolution around the way we grow and raise what we eat, naturally linked to politics and ecology.
And I had never met anyone who embraced this revolution as deeply and sincerely as David Levi, the executive chef of Vinland, a restaurant in Portland, Maine.
Everything he and his team use in the cooking and baking is from Maine. Including the coffee. This is why there is no olive oil, no lemon and no black pepper and that the wines come either from other parts of the Northeast or from Europe.
Vinland is not a vegan restaurant but vegetarians will find plenty options and anyone is asked about dietary restrictions. David Levi’s cooking and baking is organic and gluten free.
Price is a valid reason for avoiding renowned restaurants. But if you are lucky to live close enough to Portland, look for the off-season special menu that offers a five-course meal for less than $40 per person. I promise you that you’ll feel like tasting food for the first time and you’ll leave wanting to try to eat more consciously. For you. For your loved ones. For the world.
It is always best to let the people behind an extraordinaire project talk for themselves. If you believe in change one plate at a time or are simply intrigued to learn how a chef manages to run a 100% made in Maine restaurant, read Vinland Manifesto here, listen to David Levi’s Ted talk here, and go to Vinland.
I had been once to the small sparsely decorated restaurant shortly after its opening. I know that it is sometimes a mistake to return to a place that has left an unforgettable impression on the mind.
From the first leaf of salad to the last spoon of the salted blueberry semifreddo, from the knowledgeable but never pushy waiters to the Swedish-like soothing décor, from the gorgeous earth ware plates to the restrooms (yes, they matter in a restaurant, and at Vinland I could stay there indefinitely to read and re-read the beautiful poem written on the wall, wash my hands again and again just to dry them with the individual hand towels scented with a subtle blend of herbs), from the wild flowers in the small vases to the flickering votives I knew I couldn’t wait to come back. Again.
Because such a place leaves you transformed, wishing you never had to eat anything else, anywhere else again.
Sounds exaggerated? It’s only due to the explosion of flavors, to the freshness of the produce and the perfectly cooked meat and fish, to the exquisite presentation, and to the loving purposeful care put in every plate.
Some people cook and bake like gods and goddesses. Very few have a human plan behind their cooking. And only one in the entire world is doing that from a 100% local perspective.
Chapeau. Hats off.
P.S. Although I wish I could eat more often at Vinland, I can’t. But the place inspires me to make better food choices that respect our bodies and the world around us. I’m also very lucky to live with a man who makes godly ceviches and basil and lime sorbets, among other awesome dishes. His food sustains me as I revise the food scenes in my novel.
P.S.#2 The photos for this blog post are 100% made in Maine.