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Side Dishes: Bad Boy Bistro helps offenders build skills

Visitors who drop by Barre’s Local Agricultural Community Exchange (L.A.C.E.) on a Friday evening may be surprised to learn who’s behind the line whipping up their localvore eats. Via the “Bad Boy Bistro” — a new partnership between L.A.C.E. and a residential facility called Return House — youthful offenders from Washington and Lamoille counties work at the store to spice up their job skills and regain the trust of their communities.

The program “evolved organically” when Adam Woogmaster, 44, began slinging omelettes at the market and working as manager of Return House. “It fit so perfectly with the mission of L.A.C.E to be a training ground, an opportunity for the guys,” he suggests. When he proposed the idea to owner Ariel Zevon, she “loved it,” says her mom and store spokesperson Crystal Zevon. So did the Vermont Department of Labor, which pays the 18-to-22-year-old men minimum wage as they train.

Ultimately, says Zevon, L.A.C.E. would like to put some of the “bad boys” on its permanent staff. She notes that, besides the “food-service track,” the program offers opportunities for those interested in entrepreneurial endeavors, such as creating a specialty product for retail sale.

Luckily, the food dished up at the BBB is a far cry from prison fare. L.A.C.E.’s Friday-night dinners rotate among three themes: Farm Fast, Farm Fine and Farm Family. The first involves classic American eats such as burgers, fries and milkshakes made entirely from local ingredients. The second takes things to another level with fancier fare. “They did one recently that was lamb or spinach in phyllo-dough pastry,” Zevon recalls. “That was pretty spectacular.” The third type of meal is homey food served buffet style.

Have the participants developed a taste for local stuff? Big time, Woogmaster attests: “The food quality is new to them and exciting to them. Working with some foods like ramps and fiddleheads that have been wildcrafted really turned some of these guys on.”

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Suzanne Podhaizer

Suzanne Podhaizer

Bio:
Contributor Suzanne Podhaizer is an award-winning food writer (and the former Seven Days food editor) as well as a chef, farmer, and food-systems consultant. She has given talks at the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture's "Poultry School" and its flagship "Young Farmers' Conference." She can slaughter a goose,... more

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