Eat Real...Eat Local...Eat Fresh - that is the simple but profound food philosophy that Chef Jason Tostrup at the Weathersfield Inn lives and cooks by. It's even printed on their menus.
Chef Tostrup operates the kitchen at the inn, which is owned by Innkeepers Jane and Dave Sandelman. In the kitchen Ross Westney serves as pastry chef, and Anthony Gulielmo and Branden Watkins make up the rest of Chef Tostrup's line.
Tostrup was named Vermont Chef of the Year in 2008, has won numerous other awards, and the inn itself was named one of Bon Appetit Magazine's 2008 Hot Culinary Inns.
Tostrup traces his interest in cooking back to his childhood church growing up in Minnesota. One member of the church was cookbook author, teacher and food writer Beatrice Ojakangas, and she cultivated his early interest in the culinary arts. He would go on to cooking school in St. Paul right out of high school, and eventually get a degree in Hospitality and Tourism at the University of Wisconsin.
Big influences on his culinary career and his choices to focus on local foods simply prepared was the work of Chef Alice Waters and University of Vermont Professor Dr. Amy Trubek and her writings on the connection of food and culture, and in particular her book The Taste of Place.
After college he apprenticed with mainly French chefs in New York City, and was mentored by Chef Charles Dale in California's Napa Valley for eight years.
"I started at the bottom with him, and worked up to executive chef," Tostrup said. "In California we focused on local foods."
Married and looking to raise a family, Tostrup was looking for an opportunity to take his local food interests to a new endeavor in Vermont, where he and his wife wanted to raise their family.
"I found the Weathersfield Inn online," Tostrup said. "They were looking for a chef."
He flew to Vermont, and as he puts it "I fell in love with the inn and with Dave and Jane" Sandelman. Sharing the same philosophy about food was the key, and Tostrup took the chef's position at the inn five years ago. Since then, developing what they refer to as their signature VerTerra cuisine has brought the inn a lot of national attention, and serves as the Inn's restaurant name as well.
This past fall famed Chef Emeril Lagasse filmed several episodes of his Planet Green local foods television program from the inn, including visits to Willis and Tina Woods' Cider products, Long Trail Brewery, Cedar Circle Farm and several other local farmers and ranchers. Check out the episodes at the program's website, www.planetgreen.-discovery.com.
One episode focused on The Vermont Fresh Network, which connects restaurants with local farmers and ranchers. Tostrup is vice president of the Network this year.
Tostrup said that creating a restaurant that uses as much locally produced meat, vegetables, fruits and other food products as possible "didn't happen overnight." It requires learning to work with that particular farmer or rancher on a day to day basis, and it also requires great flexibility on the part of the chef, in that the menu will change day-by-day depending on what food and meats are available.
"We started with beef, then added pork, lamb and finally veal," he said. "We're essentially adding one farmer or rancher at a a time, based on three criteria: Does it taste good? Is it high quality. Is it produced in a fair and ethical way? We want our food to be good for the community we live in. We go out and meet the farmers, tasting the food they produce on the land where they produce it."
Chef Tostrup also has a "head to tail" food philosophy of using every part of any animal he butchers. His menu reflects that in that it is fresh, local food presented elegantly and simply. With a menu in the $15-$20 range, Chef Tostrup seems to have done that admirably and affordably as well.
The Weathersfield Inn can be contacted at 263-9217, or online at www.weathersfieldinn.com.