2011 seemed like the year of the cupcake here in New Hampshire.
But that wasn’t the only big trends in local food this year. Here are some highlights from the 2011 New Hampshire food scene.
• The return to brick and mortar: Home business owners have stared down the economy and invested in opening storefronts, so as to expand production and better serve their customers. Kristi Buttler and Heather Cox started Planet Marshmallow, their gourmet marshmallow business, in Cox’s Milford kitchen in January and less than a year later opened the Planet Marshmallow Dessert Café across from the Palace Theatre in Manchester. Michele’s Totally Awesome Gourmet Popcorn shop opened on Dover Road in Epsom in September and gives customers a sneak peek at Michele Holbrook’s popcorn-making process. Good Bread Co. began selling its Craquelins artisan crackers late last year at winter farmers markets and opened a bakery, where bread takes center stage, in Concord at the end of November.
• The craze continued: At least a half dozen cupcake shops popped up in southern New Hampshire in 2011: Queen City Cupcakes in Manchester, Who You Callin’ Cupcake in Salem, Kate & Grace Cupcakes in Derry, Cupcakes 101 in Bedford, Cupcakes and Cannolies in Nashua, New England Cupcakery in Concord and Cupcake Conspiracy in Merrimack. The flavor combinations at these shops are seemingly endless and many of the stores have begun to dabble in boozy baking, creating such sweet offerings as Margarita, Black Russian, Guinness and Champagne cupcakes. The shops have also started catering to those following special diets by adding vegan and gluten-free cupcakes to their menus. Lee’s Bakery and Sweet Retreat in Manchester and Sweetie’s Bakery in Nashua were among other sweet shops that opened in the Granite State this year.
• New ways to learn about food: In 2011 food became a focus of community education. The Massabesic Audubon Center in Auburn held a program about edible plants. Sandra Townsend, a docent at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, created an “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” focus tour to kick off the holiday season; the tour focused on food in art and gave Townsend an opportunity to share with tour-goers the history and significance of food throughout the centuries. Nashua chef Liz Barbour, of The Creative Feast, took matters into her own hands in educating the public by offering a personal shopper service. Barbour gives her clients a tour of the supermarket and shows them how to improve their meal selections. Also in the Gate City, author Edie Clark taught people about the origins of some New England staples with her “Baked Beans and Fried Clams: How Food Defines a Region” presentation.
• Restaurateurs unite: A handful of well-known restaurant owners partnered up this year to create new dining options in the Queen City. Red Arrow Diner owner Carol Sheehan, who also opened the Midtown Café at the Beacon building earlier this year, joined with Neville Pereira, owner of Ignite and Hooked, to open Divots on the River in October at the Intervale Country Club. Amber Grogan recently closed Jewell & the Beanstalk in Manchester to focus on her collaboration with Josh Enright, former owner of the Rustic Leaf Bistro in Milford. The duo opened Seed to Stalk, formerly the Rustic Leaf Café, in Bedford in October.
• Wine, technically speaking: Wine went hi-tech in the Granite State in 2011. The tasting room at Vino Aromas, which opened in Manchester in October, boasts a temperature-controlled cruvinet programmed to dispense three pour levels of wine. Bedford Village Inn sommelier Jon Carnevale upgraded the wine list at Corks to a Corkpad, an iPad that lists all wines offered at the bar and their taste profiles, ratings and suggested food pairings.
• Restaurant spaces reborn: Mint Bistro reopened at the end of July after hiding behind a plywood facade for nine months. Owner Roi Shpindler changed the focus of the second rendition of his eatery, offering an Asian fusion menu complete with a sushi bar. Matt Provencher, who left his post as Richard’s Bistro executive chef in March, came back this fall and took over the space that housed the iconic Queen City restaurant for 16 years and made it his own. Provencher opened 36 deLux in October. Restauranteur Michael Buckley closed his upscale eatery Michael Timothy’s in Nashua at the very star of 2011 and reopened it a few weeks later at MT’s Local Kitchen & Wine Bar to give customers a more casual dining experience.
• Support for, and from, the Food Bank: The New Hampshire Food Bank had 62 students graduate from its culinary program in 2011 and an additional 23 through a similar food service course designed specifically for refugees with the help of the International Institute of New Hampshire, said Helen Costello, program manager of the food bank’s Recipe for Success program. Forty six-week Cooking Matters courses, which also fall under the Recipe for Success program, were conducted around the state by professional chefs and nutritionists to educate low-income families about how to prepare healthy meals. The 4-H Green Thumb Team, a branch of the New Hampshire Common Ground Project run by the UNH Cooperative Extension, grew and donated 1,689 pounds of produce for the Food Bank (the organization usually donates more but a mid-season hail storm destroyed much of its crop). Overall the New Hampshire Food Bank was able to distribute more 7 million pounds of foods in 2011, an increase of more than a million from last year.
• Helping new Americans grow: In addition to helping create a food service training program at the New Hampshire Food Bank, the International Institute of New Hampshire offers a Rooting New Americans program, which teaches refugees how to grow all of their crops and sell them at the International Farmers Market in Manchester. The New American Sustainable Agriculture Project, of the New Hampshire-based Organization for Refugees and Immigrant Success, created the Fresh Start Farms brand to allow participating refugees to sell the produce they grow through the program, wholesale. The dining services department at Chester College of New England signed on this year to be one of the brand’s first accounts.
• The next Top Chef? Pinkerton Academy kicked off the 2011-2012 school year by implementing a culinary program. The student-run kitchen will prepare meals for the school’s new Astro Café, which is slated to open to the public by the end of the school year. The Quill restaurant at Southern New Hampshire University underwent a $250,000 makeover and students were afforded the opportunity to learn how to create spa cuisine, small healthy plates, in the fall semester. The university also began offering mixology classes. The culinary program at Milford High School, which runs the Windows on West Street restaurant, also continued to grow in 2011.
• 2011 said goodbye to: Richard’s Bistro, Wings Your Way, Nicky D’s Pasta Villa, Crepes Island, Pochitos, Jewell and the Beanstalk and Vanilla Bean Bakery.