Arts & Leisure

Hungry for something new? This might be for you!

Alicia Rodriguez tops one of her cakes with strawberries. Rodriguez cooks and bakes from her home kitchen in Salisbury for her culinary business Mexico in Vermont, serving authentic Mexican cuisine as well as traditional and custom cakes. Independent photo/Steve James

After two years of a pandemic, most of us have adjusted to a new way of thinking about “dining out.” Yes, we’re warming back up to indoor dining — thank goodness — and slowly we’re revisiting our favorite local restaurants. But we’ve also discovered small-scale food producers who have made a business selling specialty food directly to consumers.

Here in Addison County, you can find independent culinary artists who make Mexican cuisine, specialty cakes, sushi, Italian food and more, and sell them to anyone who just can’t stand cooking another meal in their same ol’ kitchen. 

We caught up with a few local chefs who shared their experiences of selling food during this pandemic.

ALICIA RODRIGUEZ COOKS and bakes from her home kitchen in Salisbury for her culinary business Mexico in Vermont, serving authentic Mexican cuisine as well as traditional and custom cakes. Independent photo/Steve James

MEXICO IN VERMONT

Chef: Alicia Rodriguez

Alicia Rodriguez was part of the wildly successful Viva El Sabor fiesta held in June 2021 in Middlebury. From that event, Rodriguez said that she learned she could certify her kitchen and start selling food from her house. 

She did research, had her water tested and made a few improvements to her home-kitchen in Salisbury. 

“I made my appointment and they certified my kitchen,” explained Rodriguez, who’s originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, and came to live in Vermont in 2003 with her husband. “I’ve been selling authentic Mexican food from my home since January, and I’ve had a really nice response. People are so nice. They tell me they love the food and they wish I could sell more, but I’m still learning how to do it and how to do it well.”

Rodriguez also runs her own housecleaning business and is a one-woman show when it comes to the kitchen. 

“I do it all by myself,” she said, “the planning, the buying, the prep and the cooking. I work with what I have in my house: one oven, one woman and a few big pots. Every morning I go to work cleaning houses, and then come home and start prepping for Friday’s food service…. Then I clean and make dinner for my family.”

Rodriguez offers an impressive range of options from savory to sweet, including tamales, tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, grilled salmon plates, chocoflan, tres leches cake and flawless custom confections.

“My husband and I came here 18 years ago, and we were always looking for an authentic Mexican restaurant,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve always wanted to have my own food business but just didn’t have the opportunity until last year. My dream is to someday have a food truck here in Addison County.”

For now customers can order a week ahead and come to her home on Fridays to pick up their food. 

Visit mexicoinvermont.com or call 802-989-6915 to find menus and more.

ALICIA RODRIGUEZ TOPS one of her cakes with strawberries.
Independent photo/Steve James

SUSHI MARU

Chef: John Maru

John Maru is the chef behind those beautiful little sushi boxes you can find at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op or at Crossroads, MiddXpress and the Grille on the Middlebury College campus. And most recently he’s added large sushi platters to his repertoire — perfect for large gatherings and events.

Maru moved to the States in 2014 from Burma — where he was very active in his church community. 

JOHN MARU IS the sushi chef of Sushi Maru. He makes more than 100 boxes of sushi a day that he serves to Middlebury College and the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op. He also makes platters perfect for large gatherings.
Independent photo/Steve James

“I grew up in church,” he explained in an interview earlier this month. “I volunteered and spent a lot of time in the church community because I like serving people… When I got to the USA I decided to choose sushi because serving food was a good way to keep serving people.”

Maru moved to Middlebury in 2018 to work for Sushi with Gusto (the company that provided sushi for the college at the time). But as that contract drew to a close, Maru had a decision to make.

“Not every customer is the same, and I know what the customers here, the students, want for their sushi,” Maru told The Middlebury Campus in a February article written by Rachel Lu. “I wanted to stay at Middlebury and keep serving the students here.”

A COLORFUL ASSORTMENT of sushi by John Maru.
Independent photo/Steve James

So Maru launched his own business in 2019. Support from a GoFundMe campaign helped Maru stay afloat through the pandemic and see his business grow with interest from the wider Addison County community. 

“When I make sushi, I make it with love,” Maru said. “It’s not just about getting beautiful creative sushi. I make my sushi with the best parts of myself.”

Currently Maru estimates he makes over 100 boxes of sushi (that’s 8-10 pieces per box) in a day. He needs only one-day advance for all orders. 

To make a custom order, text John Maru at 802-377-1417 or email [email protected].

EMILY OHLINGER AND Jessica Markowski are the sister-chefs behind Sorelle. They serve homecooked Italian cuisine for family dinners or fully catered parties from their homes in Brandon. Photo courtesy of Sorelle

SORELLE

Chefs: Emily Ohlinger and Jessica Markowski

Emily Ohlinger and Jessica Markowski are the sister-chefs behind Sorelle — Italian home cooked meals based in Brandon. Sorelle, by the way, means “sisters” in Italian.

Though Ohlinger and Markowski have 14 years between them, they share an incredible connection for the importance of a home-cooked meal. 

Markowski remembers the Italian restaurant her parents owned in southern New Hampshire, and the day they decided to move to Whiting with her baby sister. 

“She was little,” Markowski said, reflecting on that memory. “It was so hard to say goodbye and to hear Emily cry… so I moved up here too.”

Now both mothers themselves, the two sisters have embarked on this home-kitchen business together.  

“It was an idea that I had,” Ohlinger said. “I had just left my job as an OR nurse at Porter and wanted to do something different. Cooking is a passion of ours, so I remember one weekend I decided to make baked ziti and then a bunch of people wanted to buy it, so I got to thinking maybe we could do this every weekend.”

Sorelle launched officially as an LLC (a limited liability company; that’s an official name for the legal structure of the small business) in October 2020. 

Markowski, who has worked at Olivia’s Croutons for almost four years, steps in to help on the weekends.

“My part is mostly for the fun of it,” Markowski explained. 

Both Markowski and Ohlinger got their kitchens fully licensed, so that they can rotate where they cook the meals

“That keeps it fair, and we share the mess,” Ohlinger laughed.

Since opening, the duo have found a good groove together and are keeping up with their demand. 

The fare is usually picked up hot, although it can be ordered frozen for those who are interested in meal prepping for the week. And it’s unanimously agreed that the portions are generous.

A MEATBALL BY Sorelle
Photo courtesy of Sorelle

“We use our Facebook page @sorelleitaliancatering for our menus and people can order by filling out a Google form,” Ohlinger explained. Orders should be made by Friday for Sunday pickup.

Markowski said her favorite meals are the chicken marsala or the bruschetta; Ohlinger likes the lasagna or stuffed peppers. 

“Oh, and the meatballs!” they both chimed in together. “We always make enough so we can have an extra meatball to ourselves because they are so good.”

The sisters not only share a love of good Italian comfort cuisine, but hope to encourage more families to sit down at the table together. 

“For us, Sunday dinner was a big meal and very important,” Markowski said, remembering the meals their family shared in Whiting. “We wanted to be able to offer that to people. A food service that gives you a lot of food, made to order with real ingredients at a price you can afford.”

Visit Sorelle on Facebook or call 802-282-2312 to find out more.

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