It's a gourmet's dream: A stretch limo picks up three couples and whisks them out of town for a private culinary lesson. After spending the night "B&B style" in South Highgate, they chill out over a champagne brunch; in the evening, they're transported to Souza's Brazilian restaurant in Burlington for a convivial dinner. The catch? A crew tags along and captures the experience on digital video.
Is this The Food Network's latest reality TV offering? Not yet, but the creative team behind the show hopes it will be one day. In the meantime, the weekly program "Vermont Culinary - An Upscale Experience" is coming to a computer near you later this month. The premiere episode will focus on South American cuisine; future shows will take on such topics as cooking with wine and making perfect appetizers.
Local celebrity chef, Souza's owner and Culinary Institute of America grad Kelly Dietrich, 46, is responsible for the gastronomic portions of the show. Jeffrey Thayer of Charlotte's ReGenesis Productions Film Company, best known for its environmental and religious work, is in charge of video production.
In the editing room, the most exciting bits will be inter-cut with scenes of Dietrich hitting local grocery stores to pick up sustainably grown products, or visiting Brazil to attend the world's largest produce market. "I'm really excited about the opportunity to go to Brazil for the show," he says. Even though he visits the country frequently, "There are still fruits and vegetables there that I'm not familiar with," he admits. "Fruits and vegetables that you couldn't even imagine."
This isn't Dietrich's first foray into the world of television. From 1995 to 1999 he had a show called "What's Cooking?" on Adelphia's public-access channel. While he enjoyed cooking in front of the camera, "some of the other programming on the access channel was inappropriate and I didn't want to be associated with it," he says. "So I stopped."
But he's still been busy. In addition to catering, running his restaurant, and opening a burrito joint in Winooski, Dietrich has also been at the helm of the Kid's Culinary Academy - http://www.kidssummercampforcooking.com - for the past 10 years. The current incarnation of the KCA is a residential summer camp in Highgate, where youngsters learn knife skills, cake-decorating techniques and more.
After collaborating on some web-based advertising for the Academy, Dietrich and Thayer decided to team up on a show. Each week, a 30-minute segment will be released online via Brightcove.com, an up-and-coming provider of digital video. Viewers can enjoy the show for free and on-demand.
Thayer believes it will help to "brand Vermont" in front of a national audience. Dietrich will prepare "range-fed organic meat" and sustainable produce, and will promote local farmers. To avoid sounding moralistic, the "green" aspects will be "seamlessly integrated into the programming," Thayer explains.
Though initial costs for the program are being handled "internally," Thayer says, he's optimistic that sponsors may foot the bills in the future. No deals have been inked yet, but he's in touch with food magazines and manufacturers of culinary utensils and ranges. "We believe that if we do a good job and get the sponsors we want, it will be very easy to approach the Food Network," he opines. "They can try it on a regional basis in New England, and then go national."
Look for the first episode at the end of November on the Vermont Culinary.TV channel at Brightcove.com. DVD versions of the first three episodes will also be released in concert with Chef Kelly's forthcoming cookbook, What's the Big Deal? The duo also has another show in the works. Called "Zup!," it will give viewers an inside look at kids' cooking lessons, and culminate in an "Iron-Chef-style cookoff."