Two months ago, I was serving as the caterer and concessionaire for a leg of the IBU Biathlon World Cup in my hometown of Fort Kent, ME, the Super Bowl of European sports. Biathlon, a fast-paced combination of cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship, is the most-watched televised sport there (yes, above soccer) and an estimated 20,000,000 people tuned in to the races this year. To pull this enormous job off, my friend Kerry Luther and I called upon our best employees and friends, who traveled from all over the U.S. to work their magic and provide hospitality services for the athletes, the media, and all of the thousands of spectators who attended the races. For eighteen days we battled against sub-zero temps, iced-over produce and canned goods, snow storms, changing meal counts, frozen pipes, broken bones, and intense personalities; in the end, we not only survived–which was a feat in itself–we succeeded.
As a bonus service, we provided the 200+ athletes with a full complement of Guiding Stars information, including star ratings for many of the products and dishes that we served. This enabled the athletes, who require an average of 6,000 calories a day during training and racing, to make intelligent choices about which foods would provide the highest nutrient density per calorie consumed. They were appreciative of the guidance that Guiding Stars provided, and our crew appreciated how the labels reduced the need to identify and explain the dishes and products we offered, extremely helpful to us given the language barriers. Having the star ratings available at a glance meant no one would wonder which foods would serve them best: the more stars the label displayed, the better choice the food was.
During our stay, I took the crew to visit Joey and Janice Bouchard, the owners/operators of Bouchard Family Farms, where ployes, the traditional buckwheat pancake endemic to northern Maine and Atlantic Canada, are produced. After Janice invited everyone into her kitchen for a taste of their products, the Bouchards took us on a tour of their buckwheat mill. We learned about the buckwheat plant–an herb in the rhubarb family–and we learned that their variety of buckwheat has a neutral taste unlike other species; best of all, buckwheat is gluten free.
Because ployes are a healthy choice–some varieties of the mix receive two Guiding Stars–we incorporated the Bouchard family’s products into many of the recipes we offered to our clients: one chef coated his Wiener Schnitzel, a thin pork cutlet traditionally breaded and deep-fried, with ploye batter. Riffing on Janice’s “Ployenuts,” I made little doughnut holes out of ploye mix that I affectionately–and mischievously–dubbed “Jo-Jo Nuts.” They were named in honor of Joey, whose blushing cheeks belied his insistence that he was not embarrassed every time someone would declare “Je vais prendre les noix de Jo-Jo,” which implied they wanted the doughnut holes, but translated literally from French to English meant something else entirely.
I shot some video as we toured and a few weeks later, local food activist (and biathlon catering alumnus) Alex Steed and I got together to talk about our experiences in Fort Kent and about how ployes and their unique history, healthful qualities, and their inherent versatility make for an almost perfect food.
Watch the video, check out my ploye recipes and let me know where you’d like me to tour next.
About the Expert Chef
Erin Dow balances three food worlds. As a mother of three young children, she’s fighting the battle every parent faces: how to keep her kids interested in the foods that keep them healthy.
As the chef and owner of her catering company Eatswell Farm, she utilizes original recipes and techniques–focused on enhancing the enjoyment of locally-sourced ingredients–to best interpret the client’s vision. And as Consulting Executive Chef for Falmouth-based Professional Catering Services, a business specializing in production and backstage catering for concerts, she develops and executes menus that accommodate the strict nutritional requirements of the music industry elite.
Erin and her family raise their own chicken for meat and eggs, have dabbled in pastured Narragansett turkeys, and have a very weedy but very large and productive garden.