About this project
Vinland will forge a distinctly Maine cuisine. Drawing from indigenous food traditions along with those of the Acadians, New Englanders, and other peoples of the North Atlantic, the cuisine of Vinland is an expression of our place and history. Yet the mission is as much about ecology, building the local economy, and teaching good nutrition as it is about great food. We see these four elements as inextricable and mutually reinforcing.
The following is a short introduction to what Vinland is all about, though for a deeper philosophical expression of our mission, please check out The Vinland Manifesto.
1. Every single ingredient in every dish will be sustainably sourced from our local land and community. Right down to the salt. This means no olive oil, no lemon, no black pepper. I love these things, but Vinland is all about showing what we can do with local food. Moreover, as a poet, I love form. As Robert Bly says, form exists everywhere in nature, and life is impossible without it. Using only local food is not the only worthwhile form, but it is a beautiful form, and largely unexplored in the modern world. Working within this form pushes me to innovate. I would not have created condensed yogurt whey if I could use lemon. I would not have created my mushroom "soy" sauce if I could have used soy sauce. These ingredients make Vinland unique.
2. We will use a wide array of wild foods: mushrooms, herbs, roots, seafood, even wild yeast and bacteria in our fermented foods. We hope to one day use ethically sourced wild game, too, but will have to work on changing some laws!
3. Cuisine is a cornerstone of culture, so we hope and intend to help create a deeper culture of place, pushing ourselves and inspiring others to honor, defend, and restore our home: land, sea, and sky.
4. Our beverages will be based on local ingredients and producers to the utmost, using only ethically sourced and top quality ingredients throughout. Our Fair Trade, organic coffee and tea will come from our friends at The Speckled Ax, Tandem, and the Little Red Cup Tea Co. Our wine is from Devenish and Crush, both of which specialize in artisanal, organic, and wild fermented wines. Our beer and spirits will be entirely regional. We will showcase local mead and cider, including from our friends at U.F.F.
5. We seek to nourish. Our food will hew closely to the nutritional wisdom of indigenous and traditional societies, and therefore also to the Weston A. Price Foundation, Gary Taubes, and most iterations of the Primal or Paleo diet.
6. Vinland will be gluten-free, aside from beer.
7. We seek to share our knowledge and our mission. One evening every week will be reserved for cooking and nutrition classes.
Keeping money local
Vinland will put every last dollar of its food purchases into the local economy. When we ship our money off to distant corporations, that money is gone. By contrast, investing money in the local economy creates a multiplier effect. Here's how. Put local people to work. Strengthen their job sectors, leading to higher incomes. Increase their ability to spend that money locally by providing high value products. Watch that money get reinvested and magnified at each turn. Watch the community bloom.
Beyond the food, every beverage item will be sourced from a local business. All our furniture is being made by local craftsmen using local wood. Even our organic "waste" will be reinvested as rich compost for our supplier farms and as feed for their animals. Every dollar spent at Vinland will be used to maximal effect to build our sustainable, local economy.
Speaking of the dollars we spend, what will it cost to open this restaurant?
The basic cost of securing the lease (which began in March), building out the restaurant, finding our equipment, setting up our POS and broader financial systems, and sourcing our furniture is just over $190,000. This is actually quite low for a restaurant, let alone a fine dining restaurant with no cut corners in ethics.
We have scrimped where possible. Our equipment is nearly all second-hand. A great deal of the work is DIY. Some people involved in the project are doing work at least in part in barter, or are deferring full payment.
This Kickstarter campaign will make it possible for us to hold true to our mission beyond just the sourcing of our food. Since the purpose of Vinland is to support the sustainable local economy in all we do, we hope to have furniture from ethically sourced local wood made by local craftsmen along with uniforms made under fair conditions here in New England. Since Vinland seeks to tread lightly on the Earth, we hope, with the help of this campaign, to have all LED lighting along with natural, non-toxic paints, finishes, and insulation. If we were to have a very successful campaign, we could also get to work on some elements of the project that would otherwise have to wait a year or two, including our green roof, photovoltaic energy generation, and passive solar water heating.
This is a huge project with a lot of community support, which is why we are now turning to you to help us get it off the ground.
Where does the name Vinland come from?
"Vinland" is the name Leifr Eiríksson and his fellow Vikings gave to this corner of the world a thousand years ago, as recorded in the sagas. A settlement in the more northerly "Markland" has been discovered at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. While Vinland's exact parameters are a mystery, it probably included Maine. By choosing this name, this restaurant expresses its aesthetic and philosophical debt to Noma and Faviken, the great Nordic restaurants where I apprenticed in 2011. The name evokes the adventurousness of the Vikings. And it draws into deep history to return us to the point of first contact between the West and indigenous America. And here is where the name implies a challenge. The Vikings attacked the indigenous rather than seeking to learn from them, setting the standard for the millennium that followed. We seek to return, in spirit, to Vinland, that point of first contact, and do so with humility, committed to restoring, as much as possible, the former richness and biodiversity of this land. A key part of this is to honor and internalize the wisdom of the human communities that flourished here for thousands of years, and to acknowledge the First Nations as the primary, rightful inheritors of this land. In a deep sense, it is the rest of us who must strive to become naturalized citizens. Vinland is a gesture of our commitment to that process.
Risks and challenges
I face some real challenges in this project, and I'm ready to meet them.
1. Restaurants are inherently risky. Most fail within the first few years. I think this is due to a combination of insufficient planning, experience, market access, passion, quality, consistency, and vision. Vinland has a clear, unique, and (I hope) compelling vision. My commitment to quality and consistency is paramount, and in manifesting that commitment I will draw upon my lessons at the great restaurants where I've worked. I have planned and budgeted this project exhaustively, with tremendous help from the Maine Small Business Development Center (thanks John Entwistle). Vinland's market access will be outstanding. We are in one of the most visible locations in Portland, next to the city's premier hotel, and across from the premier museum in the state. Portland is already a dining destination and this reputation is growing. As for experience, this is my first restaurant, but I have worked in some of the best in the world. Moreover, I have a capable and dedicated team to call upon for assistance with every aspect of the operation. Finally, I know how it is to work 18 hour days for others and will not hesitate to do so when that is what it takes to make my dream a reality, though I am also taking care to not have to do that routinely so I don't burn out. This will be very hard work, and I welcome that, because this work is my passion.
2. Maine does not produce certain kitchen staples like olive oil, lemon, cane sugar, black pepper, etc, so we have to find ways to produce food that is every bit as delicious using other ingredients. We have long, cold winters, so the variety of our fresh local produce becomes slim from late fall into mid-spring. Local, organic products typically cost more than seemingly similar (but often inferior) products shipped in from distant places. So I and my team must use the self-imposed boundaries within which we're working as an impetus to experiment and create, as I have already done for years leading up to this. We must be willing to pay more for carrots and milk and then showcase these outstanding exemplars in our cooking rather than put that money toward traditional "luxury" ingredients like foie gras, caviar, and Kobe beef. We must store up our late fall crops so we can use them until mid-spring, since farmers will sell out of many of these ingredients by mid-winter. We must preserve a great deal using such traditional techniques as fermentation, pickling, dehydration, smoking, and dry curing. By doing all this, we will be able to keep our food costs within reason while having a diverse and delicious array of ingredients available to us all year long, allowing us to craft beautiful dishes using little known or entirely new methods and ingredients.
3. Maine is "Vacationland," and gets a bit sleepy outside of summer. This is part of what makes it a great place to live. But Portland is also a vibrant community with a fast growing economy and a virtually unparalleled commitment to local, organic food. Portland is increasingly becoming a dining destination for people from Boston, New York, and across the Northeast. Perhaps most important for Vinland, the old Eastland Hotel is reopening, right next door, hopefully before the new year. Now rechristened the Westin Portland Harborview, with nearly 300 rooms, it will probably be the finest hotel in Portland. We have the Portland Museum of Art across Congress St. We have the reopened and thriving State Theater across High St. So we hope and expect Congress Square to come into its own as the heart of this city as it once was. Vinland will be a vital piece of it, twelve months a year.
4. Food trends come and go. But the recent trend toward local, organic, wholesome food is not a trend but an awakening, and one that has been underway for decades. Once people learn the value of nourishing their bodies along with their local communities, they do not forget and return to industrialized food. Local, organic food is the way of the future.
5. The remaining financial need for launching Vinland is greater than the $40,000 I am shooting for in this campaign, and I have already personally invested $70,000. I am working on other means of financing including loans, grants, and possibly investors, and I am confident that I will be able to fill a gap if there is one (of course, a particularly successful campaign could get the project all the way there, which would be amazing).
Myriad challenges will arise, most small, some not so small, some predictable and some sure to come out of the blue, but this restaurant is built upon an unshakable commitment to ethics and to quality. I have no doubt that this community will see that commitment in everything we do, and support us as we nourish them, for a great many years to come.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
I know that only a small percentage of the population suffers from acute reactions to gluten. My reasons for keeping my diet and my cuisine almost entirely grain free are different. First, I'm a lifelong, formerly quite severe asthmatic who struggled for years to get off pharmaceutical drugs and was only able to when I went off grain five years ago. Grain is inflammatory, due to its lectins, not its gluten, and it is not terribly good for anyone, but really pretty bad for anyone with an inflammatory ailment, whether asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's, etc. Second, grain, even organic grain, is almost exclusively produced in monocultures that leave the soil badly exposed to erosion and which are antithetical to biodiversity. The "Fertile Crescent" is now desert due to grain production. Organic, non-industrialized grain production at that. In just over a century, we've already lost nearly two thirds of the topsoil and groundwater in and on the Great Plains, along with nearly all the biodiversity of that vast region. So I don't see grain production as sustainable, whereas rotationally grazed animals, horticulture, permaculture, and responsible hunting/gathering are. Third, I de-emphasize starch in my cuisine as I think we're usually leaner and healthier on a diet based on protein and good fats (I know I am), so while I welcome a certain amount of root vegetables, squash, etc, I do not particularly want to add grain, a less nutrient rich, more problematic class of starch, to that mix.
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