My cousin’s wedding reception was on the lawn of my aunt and uncle’s house, which sits out on a bluff overlooking Lake George, in New York’s Adirondack region. Wind from the hurricane hundreds of miles off the coast whipped the lake’s surface into whitecaps, and the flaps of the large canvas tent snapped and fluttered.
While munching on appetizers, I met John Michael White, whose family owns a house right down the road from my aunt and uncle’s. He asked me how Middlebury was doing; it turned out that he had, in 1974, co-founded the Valley Voice, and he proceeded to regale me with tales of Addison County in the 1970s.
It wasn’t the first coincidence of the day, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Later, as I popped a stuffed mushroom into my mouth, my mother, ever the journalist, struck up a conversation with the waiter passing them out on a platter.
“So, where are you from?” she asked.
“We’re based in Weybridge, Vermont,” said the waiter. She gestured eastward. “Just across Lake Champlain.”
I almost choked on my mushroom.
My uncle had mentioned that the caterer was from Vermont, and that her name was Martha, and that I should take note of her food because he knew I was into the whole local foods thing. Never in the entire exchange had he mentioned that it was Martha’s Catering, from the town right next to mine.
The rest of the afternoon I enjoyed the food — the scallops wrapped in snow peas, which I snagged every time a new tray came out; the apple cider, which was local; the stewed cherry tomatoes, the corn-on-the-cob mixed into the pasta, which was, at the young adult table, a source of much entertainment (the corncob towers were pretty impressive, I must admit).
Then there were the goat cheese patties, stuffed chicken, cheddar and broccoli soup and a salad with candied walnuts.
At the end of the meal, I swore I would never eat again, although I did manage to fit in two pieces of cake, plus dinner several hours later.
I caught up with Martha Winant a couple of days later by phone.
Winant told me she’d catered her first event in 1982. Some years afterward, she’d counted some 30 weddings in one summer.
These days, she said she generally does between 10 and 12 weddings each year.
Winant had been managing catering events for a local restaurant she’d worked at, and became frustrated that they always ran out of food. She’d cooked in several previous jobs, and she figured she’d try it out.
She got four jobs off of the first open house she catered, and went from there.
“I’ve never advertised,” she said. “Just word of mouth.”
Winant said she shops at the Middlebury Farmer’s Market for some of her produce, and works with Black River Produce for the rest.
For inspiration, she reads cookbooks, cooking magazines, cooking websites.
“Then it’s being able to sort of taste it in your head,” she said. “Being able to tell what’s going to go together.”
I’ve always thought that the best meals should take you on a journey. That whole day was conspiring to transport me right back home, to Vermont. And if my taste buds had anything to say about it, it was definitely not a bad thing.