By Curt Peterson
Nora Rice was born and raised in Hartland, and developed her deep love for fresh local produce, farm-raised meats and the art of food preparation growing up at Cobb Hill Cohousing and Cedar Hill Farm.
At 18, Rice completed a four-week certification course at Ashburton Cookery School and Chefs Academy in England. Training qualified her to apprentice in fine restaurants anywhere.
And “anywhere” included the Herbfarm in Seattle, Fielding’s in Bozeman, Montana, an agriturismo eatery in Tuscany, and the Wild Honey pub in Ireland. She took those experiences and skills and decided to start her own business back in Vermont, at just 21.
Rice created Roaming Roots Kitchen in her parents’ home at Cobb Hill, and purchased a 2003 Chevrolet minibus for $17,000 that was already outfitted with substantial cooking gear. Although it’s clocked 135,000 miles, it’s taken a lot of work to become the upscale catering center Rice wants.
“As with many vehicles in Vermont, sitting idle for a few years has taken its toll,” Rice said.
Work includes new floors and updated equipment financed by selling some of the gear already in the bus. Rice’s father, who has mechanical and carpentry skills, is helping, and a neighbor has pitched in with welding and metal work.
“I think the total net cost of rehabilitation and upgrade will be between $5,000 and $10,000,” Rice said.
Rice is operating the Roaming Roots Kitchen Supper Club to raise money for the project. Advertised on the Hartland listserv, a fixed menu is provided on Wednesday and Friday evenings.
One party of nine ordered the full menu last Friday — tender, rich beef bourguignon with rice, warm rolls, vegetables, chocolate mousse, and muffins for breakfast. Everyone in the party raved about the food, and thought Rice’s idea was terrific.
Customers pick up their meals by appointment between 5:30 and 7 p.m. at the Cobb Hill Farm stand in compostable containers.
The menu for Wednesday, April 13, included pearl barley risotto stuffed mushrooms, winter squash puree, garlicky kale with bread crumbs, apple crumble, and cheddar chive scones for “the morning after.”
The menu on Friday, April 15, included braised lamb shanks, crushed peas, potato dauphinoise with crispy chili oil, panna cotta for dessert, and fresh-baked banana bread to have with your morning coffee.
“I’m not planning on getting a liquor license,” Rice said. “Alcohol will be on a BYOB basis unless the event host provides it.”
Customers are asked to order at least 48 hours ahead to facilitate planning, choosing either the prix fixe grouping, or ordering offerings a la carte.
Rice had not arranged credit card payment yet, but she accepts cash or checks when the food is picked up.
Starting in June, Rice will be catering dining events at Riverview Farm in Plainfield, New Hampshire. Dates will be announced on her website. This arrangement fits her ultimate business model – catering outdoor events using locally-produced and grown food.
“Turning the world into our dining room,” her website says, is her goal, as is “developing a sense of place and creating a truly unique dining experience.”
Diners may order on-line at roamingrootskitchen.com, or by phone at 802-230-8498.