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Gourmandiary, July 2005
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Feasting a la Curnonsky

On Main Street in Barre, Vermont Tod Murphy is doing something very important.  
He's feeding the local Vermont economy one plate of eggs and bacon at a time,
and doing a great job at it.
The Farmer's Diner in Barre VT
Here's the scoop.  Tod
wants everyone to eat as
much local food as fresh
food, unprocessed food,
food that has a face - that
is, you know who grew it
and from whom you
bought it.  Now there are
a lot of high falutin' shops
that will sell you premium
local this or local artisan
that, but what about local
food for the common man?
Is there any more common a pleasure than breakfast at a great diner?  I stop in
things like corned beef, bacon and sausage are some of the worst offenders
much salt, they're just plain bad for you.  But oh ho, here comes Tod Murphy with
that food in front of people is to open a diner.  Brilliant!
that food in front of people is to open a diner.  Brilliant!

Tod opened the Farmer's Diner in 1999.  $.65 cents of each dollar you spend on
his food goes right into the local economy.  Most of the stuff on his menu comes
from farms that are no more than 70 miles away from his restaurant.  He's run
the numbers and here's how he quantifies his efforts on the Diner's website...
annual sales at a diner translates into 350 acres of
farmland in production, 15 farmers with gross sales
of $50,000, 13 new farm jobs, and $1,200,000 in
land conservation costs saved. Because of local
dioxide emissions annually. (Johnson School of
Business, Cornell University Social Venture
Competition study 2001/2002)

From...http://www.farmersdiner.com/overview.html
One of the things that Tod did to maximize the profitability of his venture is he
started a 'commissary' that takes all the raw products from the farm and turns them
into the foods that a normal diner would buy in bulk.  His cooks do not require any
special skills to work in his place.  He also runs his own smokehouse and makes his
own bacon, sausage and other meat products.  And, oh sweet bell pepper, is that
the best freakin' bacon I've ever had.  All the better for being guilt-free
(chemical-wise) too!  Tod will have an online store soon where you can buy the
same stuff his restaurants serve, and he's trying to franchise his restaurant idea
throughout the Northeast.  Keep and eye on
www.farmersdiner.com for all the
latest news on this great concept and fantastic restaurant.
"Eating is an agricultural act".  
Once upon a time I came upon a book in a used bookstore and I bought it
knowing nothing of the author but then later found out that I had stumbled upon
one of the few English versions of a book by the 'Prince of Gastronomes', Maurice
Edmund Sailland, aka 'Curnonsky'.  Curnonsky, it turns out, loomed large on the
into a mere wisp of legend.  In his age he was such a respected authority on food
in France that in 1927 a nationwide referendum was held which bestowed upon  
him his honorific title.  But he was not without humor, as is indicated by his nom
de plume, Curnonsky, comprised of the Latin for 'why not' and a Russian sounding
suffix because at the time he chose it, all things Russian were the rage in Paris.  
He was actually jailed in the late nineteen-teens as a Russian spy because of his
pen-name.
which because he was so simple in
his tastes.  Of great cuisine he once
remarked, "That's when things
taste of themselves!"  I can't agree
more.  Just as an artist must
respect his medium, so a chef must
respect the inherent qualities of the
they take the time to seek out the
best ingredients they can afford.

Trained as a journalist, Curnonsky
traveled all of France documenting
the simple, yet delicious, cooking he
encountered.  This was not the
haute cuisine of Paris eaten by a
minority of French people, but
rather the honest food eaten by
result of these efforts...the book I
had bought.

Yet, after learning all of this about
the man, I had yet to try any of the
dishes he had documented.  While
visiting relatives this summer I
thought I would take the
opportunity to give the book he
wrote a whirl.  The results were
wonderful!
Picture of Curnonsky Menu
Here's the menu I came up with from his book.  (Click on
Thumbnail for larger view).  A non-book recipe included is
in my travels (keep in mind that Vert Mont means 'green
mountains' and that the state was once primarily
populated by the French).

In plain English we had:
  • Carrot Soup in the Style of Crecy
  • Eggs in the style of Segonzac
  • Salmon in the style of the Loire
  • Pork with Prunes
This food tasted just like  Curnonsky promised it would.  The carrot soup was as
'carroty' as any I've ever tasted. The salmon was wonderfully complimented by a
splash of white wine while cooking and pork with prunes was a revelation to me.
Eggs in the style of Segonzac                                  Pork, Salmon and Asparagus Main Course
M. Curnonsky's feast was such that I have been deeply intrigued by this 'simple'
explored this fall.  Hello new friend, 'Prince of Gastronomes'!
Breakfast at the Farmer's Diner
Photo of Curnonsky at the Table