It’s not typical to see trays of microgreens growing in a vacant storefront in Montpelier. This is what caught my eye as my wife and I walked past the empty space, once home to Pinky’s on State, more recently GrubVT. Looking in, we saw a young woman painting what appeared to be a counter. Seeing our snooping, she glanced up and grinned. A week later, a sign appeared in the window: Enna.
Montpelier’s newest eatery is the creation of Chef Shannon Bates, who grew up in Woodbury. For Bates this is a personal endeavor; Enna is the name of her grandmother, Enna Remick, who lived in a farmhouse just up the road in Maple Corner. When I inquired how far her Vermont roots went back Bates replied, “I don’t know exactly, but at least four generations.” (Hint: it’s actually eight.)
After high school, Bates cooked at August Camp, a summer program of the Appalachian Mountain Club in Maine. Theirs wasn’t a stationary kitchen, but more of a roving pack canteen. “One summer I was asked to be the bread baker. The kitchen had no electricity, so I was kneading bread for 100 people by hand,” Bates relates. Little did she imagine that this first foray into cooking would lead to a lifelong passion, one that would take her to exotic ports and locales.
Though returning to Vermont periodically, Bates has spent the past 20 years traveling and working at some of the world’s top restaurants. In 1998, after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America (with an internship at La Grenouille in New York City), she moved to Danang, Vietnam to train at a five-star culinary resort, Furama. She next worked at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong. Then on to San Francisco and Las Vegas to work with acclaimed chefs Ron Siegel and Alex Stratta, respectively. Her training advanced in 2010 when Bates landed an apprenticeship at Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain, (ranked number 5 among the top restaurants worldwide that year). In 2013 she took Japanese cooking classes in Tokyo with Elizabeth Andoh, then on to Mexico in 2015 to study regional gastronomy at a cooking school in Oaxaca. For six years Bates served as private chef aboard luxury yachts in Italy and the Caribbean. She also briefly owned Sunshine Greens on St. Maarten in the Caribbean, where she specialized in growing and selling microgreens to local chefs. So, it would not be an understatement to suggest that with Shannon Bates comes a vast world of culinary experience.
Enna is described as an international take-out. The decor is simple and nondescript, with artwork by local artist Jesse Azarian adorning the walls. Here it’s all about the food. And yes, Bates’ food is as delicious as it is fresh and local and her experience shows. The mushroom component of her mushroom and goat cheese panini is a duxelles, (a ground puree full of concentrated mushroom flavor). The goat cheese, almond pesto, and tomato jam in that sandwich perfectly compliment each other. The basil dressing in her August Salad is elegantly understated and compliments the bright local greens and vegetables. Each ingredient stands out, delicious, crisp, and fresh. The flavors brought back memories of my father’s garden when I was young; and I was thankful Shannon Bates had decided to come home.
Enna is a gem and we are lucky to have her.
Enna is located at 14 State Street. The telephone number is 225-6693.