Food trends — edible foam, sushi pizza, unicorn lattes — come and go, thankfully. But social food issues like food security, hunger prevention, nutrition education, food diversity and food waste are here to stay.

Once again on the Island, 2018 proved that Vineyarders are focused on the issues, not the trends. In fact I’d argue that we are staying ahead of the curve, using our small size and ingenuity to strengthen our own food system in ways that bigger mainland communities are still struggling to execute. From raising kelp and supporting oyster farms to creating a mobile food market, a free community summer lunch program, and a robust gleaning program, our initiatives are bolstering our own food security (yes, you can eat romaine lettuce grown on the Island) while providing more opportunities for individuals to participate directly in the Island food system. 

You’re probably wondering why I’m bringing up these social issues in a year-end column, when normally I’d be the one obsessing about cooking. But remember I have my kitchen tongs in one hand and my garden spade in the other. On the Vineyard, growing (and catching) food and eating (and cooking) are inseparable. Really that’s true everywhere, not just on the Island. As Wendell Berry has said, “Eating is an agricultural act.”

I realized when looking back at the cooking stories we did this year that nearly every one of them celebrated a local catch, a locally grown vegetable, or a locally made or harvested food product — even the stories about chefs and restaurants. How we cook and eat on the Island is a function of how our food system runs.


Something Fishy

Not surprisingly, the number one ingredient we focused on this year was fish. Or more accurately, all things fishy. We discovered why stripers taste so good; it’s all about what they eat, according to the fishermen we caught up with in Menemsha. And we learned a great technique — sear-roasting — for cooking striped bass.  

We visited Betsy Larsen’s seafood market in Menemsha and gave bouillabaisse a Vineyard spin with locally caught monkfish, squid and scallops.  We met Erin Clarke, the new chef at Alchemy restaurant, who fed us a dish she created to showcase local bivalves — clams bruschetta.

Tyler and Shane Gibson at The Fish House, opened this summer at the airport business park. — Jeanna Shepard

A new retail fish market, The Fish House, opened up at the airport business park, thanks to the growing wholesale business of the Menemsha Fish House.

Locally farmed trout hit the dinner plate only a few feet away from where it was raised at the Island Grown Farm Hub at Thimble Farm, thanks to Farm Field Sea’s Maker’s Table event. Farm Field Sea also partnered with Cottage City Oysters to give folks the opportunity to tour an oyster farm and eat the tasty bivalves straight out of the water.

We also learned more about how the oyster farming business has grown on the Vineyard, thanks to shellfish guru Rick Karney and a panel of oyster farmers who participated in Oyster Farming: The New Family Fishing Business, one of the Vineyard Gazette’s Tuesdays in the Newsroom events. We talked to commercial scallopers, too, who were looking at a slightly lower harvest this year.

Not to be forgotten, lobsters got their due at the second annual sold-out Lobsterpalooza at The Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival, where Yankee magazine’s Amy Traverso led a side-by-side judging of three different lobster rolls. We didn’t get a chance to taste those, but we did sample a delicious lobster roll from one of the longest running booths at the Fair in our all-out blitz through Fair food land this August.

And we ate a quintessential summer dish of linguine with lobster tail in a fresh pomodoro sauce with fresh corn at the summer’s hottest new restaurant, Chef Ben DeForest’s Cardboard Box in Oak Bluffs. We started the meal with crispy calamari, straining to get a glimpse of the Obamas arriving for their first night out on the Island.

Next on our fishy to-do list: making the conch fritters in Chef Deon Thomas’ new book on conch cookery, which features recipes that work with local whelks, too.


Local toasts with summer tomato and veggie toppings. — Susie Middleton

Our Daily Bread

Apparently we could not live on fish alone. Our second biggest food obsession in 2018 was locally baked bread. We had a fascinating visit with Kate Warner, who has turned her passions for sustainability and bread baking into a bread CSA. We spent a morning with the baker of Beach Road, Leslie Hewson, who showed us how she makes her daily focaccia, challah, and peasant loaves for both Beach Road and State Road restaurants.  And we stopped in to the newly opened North Tisbury Farm & Market not only for local and artisan gourmet goods, but also to grab a few loaves of fresh-off-the ferry bread baked at Falmouth’s exceptional French bakery, Maison Villatte.

And in the end, because we love bread so much, we decided there is one food trend not worth giving up on: toast. At least not yet, since some variation on the open-faced sandwich has been around since the Middle Ages. Just because avocado toast has been having its moment doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to top, slather, drizzle, layer, or otherwise cover a thick slice of freshly baked bread that’s been toasted, grilled or broiled, with any number of delicious things—especially local ingredients. Our favorite this summer? Tomato Peach Bruschetta. Next summer? Who knows. But it will be delicious and it will be local.