After a yearlong, multimillion-dollar renovation of the former Sondik Supply building at 716 Pine Street, the staff of Lake Champlain Chocolates will unveil their bold new culinary center next week.
The colorful, 45-seat South End Kitchen at Lake Champlain Chocolates — bedecked in golden-rod tiles, filled with wooden tables and adorned with a stone hearth — anchors the 8,500-square-foot space. It's flanked on either side by an airy education kitchen and a glassed-in production area for Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker.
"It's a unique space, and it was fun to take an old warehouse" and transform it, said Jim Lampman, LCC's founder, who worked closely with his son, Eric, and architect John Anderson on the project. Architect Donna Church of studioblue Architecture created the design, which was partly funded by $1.3 million in financing from the Vermont Economic Development Authority.
Lampman also seemed happy to return to the savory side of food — he began working in the culinary field on the New Jersey shore at age 15. LCC grew out of Burlington's Ice House restaurant, which Lampman co-owned in the early 1980s.
A few days before opening, a staff of 15 was busy turning out lunches at a soft opening for their LCC colleagues. The room smelled of herbed, roasted chicken.
Chef Sarah Langan has created a subtly French-inflected locavore menu for South End Kitchen, which will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Egg sandwiches, quiche, granola, hot cereal and a frittata are on the morning menu, as are donuts and pastries created by pastry chef Nicole Maddox.
At lunchtime, diners can nosh on open-faced sandwiches — aka tartines — including one topped with Tuscan white-bean spread, cucumbers, radish and watercress. Also on offer are pressed sandwiches, such as one with ham, Brie, arugula and mostarda; a trio of salads, including frisée with lardons and a poached egg; a Cabot Clothbound Cheddar soufflé; and daily specials.
The coffee-and-ice-cream café housed in the current LCC headquarters next door will move to South End Kitchen, which will also serve an array of desserts such as chocolate pot de crème.
A wall of glass separates the café from the production area for Blue Bandana, the bean-to-bar arm of LCC founded by Eric Lampman in 2009. Though he quipped that Blue Bandana probably seemed like a "hobby" as it grew, Lampman is quietly passionate about sourcing Fair Trade beans from cacao-producing areas in Madagascar and elsewhere. "Getting high-quality beans is the root of what we've been trying to do," he said.
Meanwhile, chocolate maker Nick Hadsel-Mares hand-sorted Guatemalan cacao beans destined for Bandana's bright yellow cacao-bean roaster. Afterward, the nibs would be crushed inside a massive stone melanger that the company sourced from Italy and that Barre stone workers helped refurbish. The whole process happens in full view of café diners.
On the other side of the space, a lime-green teaching kitchen is filled with wooden and steel standing tables for demos and classes. Author Molly Stevens will christen the education space on Friday, January 24, with a roasting and braising class. A class on creating savory winter tarts will follow the next day. On Sunday, January 26, a "Slow Food Local Cheese Tasting" will feature cheesemakers from both Shelburne Farms (Kate Turcotte) and Spring Brook Farm (Jeremy Stephenson), as well as cheese expert and author Jeff Roberts.
"This [teaching kitchen] allows people to get really hands on, and for us to share our knowledge," said LCC marketing director Cathy Wisloski. Like everyone around her, she seemed both relieved and excited to have the expanded space. Between tastings, demos and tours, the LCC café and store were getting crowded. "This enables us to engage with the community more deeply than ever before," Wisloski said.
We're just eager to hold breakfast meetings featuring South End's maple lattes and bowls of hot quinoa with roasted pears and almonds.