July 30, 2016 by WhiteStone
Two groups of middle schoolers came over to the inn recently. They are part of a summer school program that has a session on Architecture and Culture. During the second unit they were studying food and culture, exploring different regions and seeing how restaurants design their menus and their spaces to reflect where they are located. At the end of all of this, the students will have to present a vision of what kind of restaurant they would create, and what the menu would look like and why.
It was an interesting study to reflect on why we do what we do and to articulate that; to explain why we designed Champney’s as we did; and why buying local is as important to us as running a scratch kitchen.
We are not sure if these students fully understood about reducing the environmental impact, keeping the farming community vibrant, preserving genetic diversity, putting taxes to good use, investing in the future, buying what is in season so there is less waste. We said we like to buy what we want and not what a food conglomerate wants us to buy; that for us it was morally, ethically, philosophically, the only way – that growers, the land, animals, should be treated with respect and appreciation.
We told them we buy local draught beers, bringing in many different ones and supporting new brewers. We buy local gin and vodka, and we make our own infusions for the clarity of taste, supporting area growers when we can for those infusion ingredients.
We spoke of the opportunity we had after tropical storm Irene to create two warm, inviting, gathering spaces within the footprint of the old hall-like dining room of the inn, to put in fireplaces, a dining bar, well-padded seating, sound-absorbing carpets and café curtains, and bring modern comfort and operation into a space that still honored the past and sense of place with its color choices, period reproduction wallpaper in the restaurant side, and seeded glass windows.
We showed them that the restaurant and tavern have pictures on the walls that reference this village that owes its very existence to the rich land around it, the rivers, orchards, and fields. It all speaks to community, place, past and present.
We told them that even the name of our restaurant and tavern have significance for us; that James Wells Champney was a Deerfield resident who was an ardent abolitionist, a champion of women’s suffrage, an innovator in photographic techniques, and an early impressionist painter. Above all there is much testament in the Memorial Libraries to his kind and generous heart, and a good heart is greatly valued here. You can learn to be a server, but you can’t learn a caring heart, and the authenticity of the desire for folks here to make sure you are well and happy is a delight to experience.
We are not sure the students got all this: The compare and contrast restaurant was a fast food chain –and, when asked, they said the difference between that menu and ours was that the chain restaurant’s had pictures, but it was an interesting exercise for us to articulate to a rising generation how the Chef has designed the menus and how our spaces reflect this village where we are located, and the importance to us of authenticity in produce and products, in preparation, in ambiance, and in service.
Then they all shared a plate of local cheeses with strawberry-rhubarb compôte and we told them how that pairing of a “jam” with cheese was a very old culinary tradition and gave them tasting notes – and then, finally, it was all about the food.