Back to School - Sterling CollegeSeptember 28, 2016
The job description for Executive Chef at Sterling College seemed as though it was written for Simeon Bittman when he saw it posted on Good Food Jobs. Vermont and specifically the Northeast Kingdom had been calling to the chef and his then fiancé since visiting friends and experiencing the culture and food of the region. “Hen of the Wood, Jasper Hill, Hill Farmstead, the living roof at the Pete’s Greens farm stand – this is where we can buy our veggies?” Chef Bittman recalls his excitement during early visits. Bittman learned the job was his after emerging from his mountain honeymoon and listening to his voicemail. “It all came together,” he shared.
Simeon Bittman has a diverse culinary background - balancing work at fine dining restaurants with jobs at small natural food cafés as a way to explore the art of cooking and support his passion for real, whole foods and healthy food systems. Bittman attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and graduated with a draw to institutional cooking, realizing that this was a way to do more and effect greater change.
At Sterling College, Chef Bittman’s kitchen is a classroom. When the Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems was established, their intention was to connect each element of the food system in an experiential, all-consuming education. Students in this program work in the gardens, with draft animals and in the forest and sugarbush. Student’s work comes full-circle in the kitchen. Chef Bittman oversees 20 students who have chosen a work program with him and take on roles like breakfast cook or prep cook. The students also take over the entire meal service each Sunday for brunch – planning meals like a ‘croques’ bar, chicken and waffles, and steak and eggs chimichurri from start to finish. The kitchen plays a role in more standard classes like “Food, Landscape and Culture” where students might work with Chef Bittman to plan a ‘Pho’ takeover and use the meal to educate their peers about the food culture of Vietnam.
The kitchen at Sterling has its own vision statement and prioritizes sourcing to realize that vision. Chef Bittman uses:
- Food grown in the Sterling Gardens and produced by students;
- Local food grown and produced by farmers or the region (within approximately 50 miles);
- Food that is organic;
- Conventional products.
The kitchen never uses conventional sourcing for meat or produce; the latter category is usually used for dry goods and pantry staples. About 76% of their food is local, organic, and/or humanely raised and about 26% is grown and raised at Sterling. When we spoke with Chef Bittman, he was planning a dinner of veggie lasagna featuring local butternut squash, eggplant from Pete’s Greens, and farmers cheese from Sweet Rowan. There’s always a salad bar, homemade sourdough bread and a pickle bar to feature all the preserved veggies Chef Bittman and his students put up through the summer and fall.
“The school is definitely moving in an amazing direction,” Simeon Bittman shared, “the growth in the past 4 – 5 years under the leadership of President [Matthew Derr] has created an incredible program and opportunity to do great work. I’m honored to be here and participate.” Chef Bittman acknowledged this past summer’s addition of The School of the New American Farmstead as an example of the incredible growth and evolution of the school’s vision. The program features guest teachers like Sandor Katz, David Asher and Ruth Reichl has kept the vibrancy of campus alive year-round and the farm production up through the summer.