Meet the chef: Ian Huizenga of Hired Hand and Bar Antidote in Vergennes

This spring, Ian Huizenga, owner, head chef and brewer of Vergennes restaurants Hired Hand and Bar Antidote, received an unexpected phone call. On the other line, a member of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce informed him that’d he’d won a big award: Vermont’s 2017 Chef of the Year.
“It was totally out of the blue — I didn’t even know I was in the running for it,” he said last week, sitting on a barstool on Hired Hand’s new outdoor porch. “It was really humbling. It’s not something I’ve ever strived for; it wasn’t really my M.O. But really, it was nice to be recognized, totally out of the blue, and I was thankful for it.”
Huizenga opened Hired Hand last October, but he took over Bar Antidote nine years ago as owner and chef. Its creative comfort cuisine (burgers, pork belly sandwiches and new kimchi fries) have made it a local staple.
While Bar Antidote, underground and somewhat hidden, feels like a bar and speakeasy — with dim lighting, gourmet mains and a fully-stocked bar — Hired Hand is its antithesis. Big windows let sunlight stream in, and the space is decorated with modern-chic high-top tables, dangling bulb lights, and refinished hardwood floors. The casual pizza menu, along with beer brewed by the owner himself, local spirits and a selection of wines creates an atmosphere Huizenga calls “fun and fresh.”
“It’s distinctly different from Bar Antidote,” Huizenga explained. “We designed it that way, to create two totally separate feels.”
Over the years, Huizenga has become increasingly able to support local farmers — something the Vermont Chamber of Commerce commended. When he first opened Bar Antidote, he was only expecting to serve several small dishes alongside beer and cocktails. But the interest of his customer base grew, and he credits regulars for their interest in local dishes.
“One of the main specials that I started, in year two, was just a local burger,” Huizenga said. “And it moved exceedingly well, to the point where we started introducing more and more local components to see what the area was going to support, and now I think we’re about 45 percent year round. But that’s all indicative of how the town’s supporting it. I believe we’ve changed the Antidote in ways that show what the town and community wanted.”
Huizenga hails from a farming family in Vermont (there’s an old wooden sign in the entrance of Bar Antidote to prove it), and he appreciates the partnerships that have developed between chefs, restaurateurs and farmers throughout the state in recent years. He often attends events held by the Vermont Fresh Network to meet new farmers and forge new relationships.
The Chef of the Year award, presented at the 2017 Vermont Tourism Summit in April, recognizes one individual who has a proven history of supporting Vermont’s agriculture through the use of local produce.
“Ian’s passion for locally-focused comfort foods — from farm raised beef and fowl, to hand harvested ramps and local vegetables — is what he is recognized for by his patrons,” the award description reads. “His blending and pairing of flavors is seen in his crafting of brews from local ingredients, pairing innovative pizzas, baked sandwiches, local cheeses and featured beer cocktails, as well as combining his beers with local spirits, shakes and beer inspired desserts.”
While Huizenga appreciates the award, his ultimate satisfaction comes from the support of his customers.
“The community has just been great as a whole, and insanely supportive,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine being in a better town. I grew up in Bristol and I travelled a lot before I came back. I love Vermont, and I’m really happy that I settled in Vergennes.”
Looking to the future, Huizenga is hoping to bottle his beer for retail. Brewed at the Bobcat Cafe, he says his brews are one part of his business that represent him most as a chef and artist. Once the retail is in full swing, he won’t have much left on his to-do list. 
“If I get that up and going by October, that will mean that I’ve hit pretty much everything that I want to be doing,” he said. “I’m by no means looking for anything to get out of control, or bigger. The business is really a service to this area.” 

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