[image-1]In mid-March, Chelle Hall was winding down the ski season as sous-chef at the Stowehof Inn's Fritz Bar & Restaurant
. Due to COVID-19, she recalled, "We were all put on a leave of absence. I really didn't know what to expect."
Hall, 26, had previously decided to go back to earn her bachelor of science in business administration and accounting at the University of Vermont while working reduced hours at her cooking job. Soon, though, she found herself without a job at all.
Unexpectedly, the break led to an opportunity to create her own business featuring the Japanese food of Hall's heritage.
The young chef has worked her way through a respectable roster of Vermont restaurants, from the Farmhouse Group
to the Inn at Shelburne Farms
. Hall had completed the culinary arts program at Burlington Technical Center and earned her associate's degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.
One of the reasons she decided to go back to school was to develop the necessary business skills to launch her own culinary enterprise. "I'd been tossing around the idea of going into the prepared foods business," Hall said.
Though her eventual goal is still to have her own restaurant, "right now," she added, "does not seem like the time to do a bricks and mortar."
Instead, Hall decided to launch Buku. The Stowe-based business allows her to share her passion for Japanese-style foods, such as bento box meals and small plates typically served at informal venues called izakaya. Hall explained that she was born in Japan and her mother is Japanese. [image-2]
Buku is "a riff on the French word beaucoup," meaning many, Hall said. "It's also a play on how people say 'beaucoup bucks,'" she added with a chuckle.
The business takes direct orders for weekly delivery in Stowe and Burlington via Instagram
, as well as pre-orders for a schedule of pop-ups at some local markets, restaurants and bars.
Buku's izakaya menu is about half cold and half hot dishes, Hall said. Typical items are dashi-marinated eggplant and leeks with a soy dressing; and potato salad with ham, cucumber, corn and Kewpie mayonnaise. Hot offerings might be koji fried chicken with yuzu aioli, or agedashi tofu with daikon.
Through her extensive network within the local chef community, Hall knew that some were willing to host pop-ups. Cuts in staffing combined with social distancing and other safety precautions have made it challenging for restaurants to maintain full hours, she explained. It's a bonus to them to farm out the food for the evening but still sell drinks.
After her first successful pop-up at the Mill Market & Deli
in South Burlington on July 10, Hall now has events scheduled at Winooski's Mule Bar
on Monday, July 27; at Zenbarn
in Waterbury Center on Monday, August 3; and a return to the Mill Market on Friday, August 14.