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Side Dishes: New chef hops over to Northeast Kingdom Inn

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Rabbit Hill Inn, in the tiny hamlet of Lower Waterford, has a long and illustrious history. Opened as the Samuel Hodby Tavern in 1795, the property changed names and owners several times before being dubbed Rabbit Hill in 1919. Current owners Brian and Leslie Mulcahy purchased it in 1997.

Last January, ForbesTraveler.com recognized Rabbit Hill as one of the “Ten Most Romantic B&Bs in the Country.” Since 1992, the RHI has received AAA Four Diamond ratings for its accommodations and food. For 15 years, the award-winning cuisine was prepared by Chef Russell Stannard.

The inn’s new executive chef is Matthew Secich, who most recently acted as a consultant to the now-defunct Elixir restaurant in White River Junction. Prior to that, he worked at the famed Inn at Little Washington and “ran the kitchen” at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago.

Secich has already made a few adjustments in the kitchen. “I changed everything over to 99 percent local, everything outside of fish,” he relates. “These farmers are so proud of what they have to offer, there’s already a world of difference.” Secich is dry-aging his own beef. To reduce waste, kitchen scraps go to a nearby pig farm — the source of RHI’s bacon futures.

For Secich, preparing fine food is a spiritual endeavor. “On my 10th birthday, my grandmother taught me what life and death and resurrection is all about,” he explains. She had her grandson select a duck for his dinner, and as she killed, gutted, and cooked it, she explained the importance of its sacrifice. The takeaway message: “All things that come to the table were once alive, even a carrot was once alive; therefore, it’s important that you cook everything to the brink of perfection.”

While he professes to love his new position, Secich does have a quibble with the job description. “I don’t ever want to be a chef; I’m an artist,” he maintains. “I take something that is dead and give it life. I’m using cuisine as a key to open up hearts. I want people to walk away better lovers, dreamers and poets. I hope that this will be one of the great places in America.”

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