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The Burlington Free Press

NECI aims to host Great Vermont Community Picnic

By Sally Pollak, Free Press Staff Writer • Friday, May 28, 2010

NECI is attempting to organize the Great Vermont Community Picnic — a summer food-fest that would take place at arguably Vermont’s prime picnic spot: the Statehouse lawn.


“The idea with the community picnic — this would be the first one, and hopefully other parts of the state would decide to do the same thing,” said Tom Bivins, executive chef at the New England Culinary Institute. “In this country, the summer picnic was a mainstay until about 20 years ago. It’s fallen away.”

NECI hopes to revive the tradition in a big way Aug. 15 on the capitol grounds. The Montpelier-based culinary school would do the cooking, using locally donated foods. The culinary school is looking for partners to help host the event.

“Big summer picnics were a way for the entire community, not matter what your social status or economic status, to come together and celebrate the bounty of the season, as well as the achievements of your community,” Bivins said.

Proceeds from the picnic, which would likely cost $15 per person and include a family rate, would benefit the Vermont Foodbank.

“The food would be prepared on the lawn,” Bivins said. “There will be lawn games for families to participate in. We’re also working on local music.”

Bivins and his partner, Bennett Law, throw a smaller version of the Great Vermont Community Picnic (though not so small, after all), every other year at their Randolph home. The pig roast, often featuring an animal raised on the premises, is the centerpiece of the meal. Law also bakes a cake for 250 people, Bivins said.

The pig, weighing about 180 pounds, is roasted in a rotisserie that was built by a neighbor, Bivins said. He seasons it with salt, pepper, and a brine or marinade that he injects inside the pig.

“I’m from Louisiana,” Bivins said. “We like to inject things.”

Neighbors bring a great variety of food to supplement the pig, cake and beverages provided by the hosts: Salads, breads, tomato salad, multiple zucchini dishes (“It’s that time of year,” Bivins said), pasta and grain dishes, moose chili, and more.

“Amazingly enough, there’s always just the right amount food and just the right variety,” Bivins said. “It’s a blast. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very satisfying work. People are appreciative.”

One of the pleasures, Bivins said, is the sense that the gathering is “very much a part of Vermont.”

Contact Sally Pollak at [email protected] or 660-1859.

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