Meet the chef: Julie Clancy is a chef for hire
MIDDLEBURY — At 6 a.m. on Sunday, while much of New England sleeps after the grind of a long workweek, Julia Clancy is awake. The young chef scans her meticulously constructed list of ingredients and instructions while loading various items — fresh herbs from the garden, maple syrup, coriander seeds — into a large box. She puts the box in her car, pulls out of her driveway in Middlebury and heads for Agricola Farm in Addison.
There, farm owner Alessandra Rellini waits for Clancy with meat from freshly butchered heritage pigs, which she fed, raised and loved for the entirety of their 14-month lives. In the two weeks leading up to today, Clancy and Rellini have debated, discussed and decided how they will use the pork for today’s meal, which will serve a long table full of eager foodies, some of whom have driven hours to attend the feast.
Clancy, 24, moved to Vermont in September, and after dabbling in several culinary endeavors, she heard that Agricola Farm was seeking a chef for pop-up events. She reached out to Rellini, who invited her to the farmhouse to see if their cooking inclinations aligned. The two made tagliatelle, a pasta similar to fettuccine, with mascarpone cheese, almonds and herbs. They drank wine and talked, finding parallels in their love of fresh, seasonal food.
“We spoke the same language together pretty fast,” Clancy said.
From there, “Pranzi in Fattoria,” a traditional Italian lunch held every other Sunday in the living room of Rellini’s farmhouse, was born. Purchase a $39 ticket and you’ve won six courses, including meat and cheese plates, salads, pasta, an entrée and a dessert, all made exclusively with Vermont ingredients.
Though the farm is not a restaurant, the private farm events are open to members of the public, who can buy tickets online in advance. Before the three-hour indulgence begins, Rellini offers a farm tour, during which she shows visitors the pigs, chickens and sheep — ingredients of the food they’re about to consume.
This transparency is part of what drew Clancy to Agricola, and Vermont, in the first place. Raised by a macrobiotic mother, meat was not plentiful during Clancy’s childhood. Its absence in her diet harbored a certain suspicion of the food group, but now that she can see the animals roaming the farms where she buys her meat, it’s found a substantial place in her diet.
“I love meat when it’s beautiful,” she said. “You can taste and you can tell when it’s raised well. That takes a lot of artistry, and I think there’s people in Vermont who do that better than I’ve ever seen it before. The meat in Vermont is pretty astounding.”
Clancy descends from a line of chefs, and though she hasn’t been in the game very long, the work comes naturally to her. Her intuition about food enables her to literally sniff out the freshest produce at the farmers market, highlight the taste of a fresh goat’s milk ricotta by adding only lemon and oil, and determine the quality of bread by listening to the sound it makes when she knocks on it.
Her introduction to the farm-to-table lifestyle began as a child when she worked on a farm outside Boston in the summers. At Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., she majored in English, and always found herself writing nonfiction about cooking, food policy and food anthropology. She was formally trained at Ballymole Cookery School in Ireland, where she studied for a semester.
“It’s always been food for me,” she said. “Because I use food as the central way I connect to other people and other things, it’s kind of the lens through which I see the world. I guess it’s just what makes the most sense to me.”
After graduation, she trekked to San Francisco for a one-week stage at Chez Panisse, a neighborhood bistro founded by Alice Waters, best known for her activism in the movement toward local food. Her next stage was at Zuni Café, another cutting-edge restaurant in the heart of San Francisco.
“They hired me that day,” she said. “I had one suitcase. I had my boyfriend out there with me — we had decided to take a three-week fun trip together so I could stage, but they accepted me right then and there.”
She worked at Zuni until she made the move to Vermont this past September. Despite her love of California, something told Clancy she belonged in New England. Clancy began working at the Otter Creek Bakery — a totally new venture for someone coming straight from the city.
“It was so different from the fine dining restaurants I’ve worked in,” she said. “It’s very small scale — you get a knock on the back of the door and the Orb Weaver Farm ladies would come in with a box of peppers and some fennel — it was a very different pace, and I loved it.”
In February, she got the idea to do some work on her own. She wanted to source all of her own ingredients, design her own menu, but cook and serve in her clients’ kitchens. During a visit to Stonecutter Spirits, she bounced her ideas off Sas Stewart, a co-owner of the Middlebury distillery, and soon after, Stewart asked if Clancy would prepare food at an upcoming a pop-up — for 100 people.
“I’ve cooked for a hundred people on the line, I’ve had busy nights in a restaurant where you do 350 covers, but in my own name, designing my own menu, doing my own food processing and business planning throughout the event, serving — absolutely not.” she said. “(Sas) basically just gave me a blind chance, which I’m super grateful for.”
From there, she began her private chef business, which is similar to a personal chef, but instead of packaging the food with instructions to reheat it later, Clancy serves her clients.
“I love plating,” she said. “I like composing a dish. For me, it’s the entire symphony.”
Between Pranzis, private clients can bring Clancy’s food savvy ways into their kitchen for a quiet couple’s dinner, a family-style three-course meal, or a gathering of 25. She’ll cook vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and within any religious or spiritual restrictions, saying it makes her more creative.
“I am absolutely game,” she says. “We design the menu together.”
The same transparency that Clancy respects and searches for while sourcing her menu is present in her cooking and presentation. Between courses, she invites clients to talk with her and see what she’s doing. After working in restaurants with open kitchens, that interaction with her clients has become an integral part of the way she cooks.
“I think Vermont was a good place for me to start this out because people are so supportive,” she said. “I think people have a passion for food that doesn’t necessarily have to do with going out to the hottest new restaurant. It’s just about feeding, and more of a sense of place.”
Clancy’s prices are contingent upon the cost of food, travel, and any wine and beer pairings. She says she can stay within budgetary boundaries expressed by the client, and that most dinners are less than restaurant price, and rarely more than $30 per head.
“I guess it’s just going back to a way that makes more sense to me,” she said, “which is cooking with what’s available and cooking something that’s grown nearby, and the things that taste the best, and taste the most flavorful which are also the things that are grown sustainably, properly, beautifully.”
To get in contact with Julia, visit her website at juliarclancy.com.