CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Al Keene first heard about a locavore at a seasonal dinner started three years ago by a chef in Carrabassett Valley.

He remembers asking Chef Tony Rossi, who hosts the dinners at the Shipyard Brew Haus restaurant at Sugarloaf Inn, to repeat the foreign-sounding word, coined to describe people who eat locally produced food.

“I asked him, ‘Local folks, what’d you say?'” said Keene, 65, last week.

Rossi’s answer came during the meal that followed — six courses of gourmet food prepared almost entirely with ingredients from Maine.

Keene and his wife, Dianne, have only missed one of Rossi’s dinners since. Rossi has served about 20 locavore meals so far during the ski resort’s off-season, according to Keene.

The dinners inspired the couple to start experimenting with their own locavore recipes at home, and it gave them an idea to publish a cookbook to encourage other Mainers to also eat local food.

They started gathering recipes this summer for the “Maine Locavore Cookbook,” which they hope to publish this fall, according to Keene, who owns a printing and consulting business in Carrabassett Valley.

Keene described the project’s goal as showing people how to support local farms, food markets and other businesses, while getting better-tasting food that hasn’t traveled hundreds or thousands of miles.

“We’re not chefs and we haven’t been in the food business, but we like food,” Keene said. “We buy local stuff and we like local stuff.”

The couple put out the word over social networking websites, and to locavore organizations and agriculture groups in Maine. They give a few simple guidelines for people who have recipes for the cookbook.

“How many of the ingredients can we get from Maine?” Keene said. “We’re not requiring that all of the ingredients are from Maine, but as many as you can find.”

Keene recalled a corn ice-cream sandwich and chocolate cake cookie with blackberry sauce as a favorite dessert, prepared from local ingredients for one of the seasonal dinners.

His wife’s favorite dish from the dinners is a pan-seared Atlantic halibut with heirloom tomatoes, Riesling butter sauce and cucumber salad, he said.

The couple has learned that everything from cooking oil to buffalo meat can be found locally.

There is going to be a section in the cookbook dedicated just to the odd ingredients you can get from local farms and businesses, he said.

“Once you dig in, it’s amazing what you can find,” he said.

The couple also plans to allow nonprofit organizations to sell the cookbooks as fundraisers for their groups.

For example, a Little League team can sign up to sell them and get a portion of the proceeds, according to Keene. He said the cookbook will cost $25 and the group would get $10 per sale.

‘Once you taste the difference’

Rossi is still deciding which of his recipes should go in the Keene’s cookbook.

The 40-year-old chef co-hosts the seasonal locavore dinners with his girlfriend, Heidi Donovan, who is the restaurant’s bar manager and brings liquors and wine made in Maine to the meals, while also making the desserts.

They serve about 24 people at each dinner. Menus describe where the food came from and the chef introduces each course himself, telling tales about the farms and markets he visited to buy the ingredients.

Rossi called the cookbook a great idea that he hopes will introduce people to a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.

Meat and vegetables that are shipped a great distance, or mass-produced, will often have preservatives, hormones and other additives that make it less healthy, while creating a dull taste, according to Rossi.

“You have this broccoli that traveled halfway around the world and you have this other one that just got cut this morning; once you taste the difference, you never go back,” he said.

When it comes to meat, Rossi has found everything from how an animal is raised to how it is slaughtered can affect taste.

For example, stress on the animal during its life can make the meat tougher, he said.

“If you have this pig who lived his quiet life and all of a sudden he gets put in this box and thrown on a truck, he doesn’t know what’s going on and that’s stressful,” Rossi said.

Rossi gets his meat from local farms and farmers’ markets, where a surprisingly diverse selection of everything from chicken and pork to goat and buffalo is available, he said.

Building relationships with the people producing your food is another benefit of buying food locally, according to Rossi.

“It’s definitely nice, now that I’ve gotten to know some of these farmers, and some of them will grow stuff for me per request,” he said.

The locavore movement is gaining momentum in Maine, but Rossi admitted in a cold-weather climate it’s affected by seasonal factors and more about buying local whenever possible.

“Supporting a community more than anything is what it’s all about,” he said.

‘It’s a whole different ballgame’

Rossi has been visiting Whitewater Farm Market in New Sharon for years to buy the meat, he said.

The market sells meat products from 60 different Maine farms, with most within a 50-mile radius, according to the owner, Russell Dodge.

Dodge, 61, said his business has grown slowly since opening in 1997, but he attributes that steady climb to repeat customers rather than any movement towards buying local food.

“(Rossi) has been coming back for several years and he’s a chef and that tells you something right there,” Dodge said in a phone interview.

The farm store has 10 freezers stocked with a variety of all-natural meats, and it features seasonal fruits and vegetables, according to Dodge.

Dodge described the meat he gets as additive-free and from farms that practice all-natural livestock techniques.

He took a long pause and scoffed when asked how his meats are different from those coming from large wholesale farm operations.

“It’s not like the meat from those other places, it’s a whole different ballgame,” he said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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