Why Is Jessica’s Executive Chef Rob Fenn So Dang Shy?

A smiling man folds his arms and looks out into the distance. He is standing on a green lawn. Red and yellow trees are in the distance.
Executive chef Rob Fenn is a Vermonter through and through. His family has owned Fenn Farm for eight generations. Photo by Serena Kim

Good news! Jessica’s at Swift House Inn has opened its doors after its annual cleanup.

The restaurant crew were delighted to get a week off with fine, warm weather for chilling on the deck, catching up on yard work, and generally recharging to approach the busy holiday season. 

Speaking of which, Jessica’s executive chef has been putting the final touches on his Thanksgiving Dinner menu. 

Fenn imbues each and every meal with farm-fresh ingredients and a distinctly Vermont point of view. But we don’t understand why such a popular chef is so soft-spoken and reserved. After much prodding, we convinced Chef Rob to tell us a little more about himself. The fans want to know!

This is what we found out. 

Can you describe Fenn Farms for us? 

Fenn Farm is located in Middlebury near the foothills of the Green Mountains. At one time, the homestead was over a hundred acres of farmland and wood lots. When my grandfather passed away in 2004, I inherited a 10-acre wooded parcel with Beaver Brooke running through the middle. When I returned to Vermont in 2007, I began clearing a building site. I met my wife in 2008, and she also fell in love with the property. After several years of spending free time there and planning our forever home, we began building in 2016.  I am now the eleventh consecutive generation to live on the property. 

What was the first dish you learned how to cook?

The first recipe I prepared on my own at age 9 was apple pie. I made it to be part of my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. 

How did you end up at Jessica’s?

I initially heard of the  job opportunity at the Swift House from the previous chef who informed me had decided to move on. I expressed an interest by submitting my resume. After an interview and a clinical interview, it was decided that I was well qualified and won the position. Ten years later, I still appreciate the opportunity. I have strived to never be complacent and improve my techniques on a daily basis. 

If there’s one thing home cooks could learn from pros what would it be?

My suggestion is to not be confined by someone else’s recipes, simply use them as a reference. Use your instincts and taste to make them your own.

You are vey close to your two dogs. Can you tell us about your dogs’ different personalities? 

Sawyer is a year-and-a-half. He’s my best bud. A real lover! He enjoys activities like hiking, swimming, and chasing a ball. Ruby is a sweet girl although bit timid and reserved. Getting out of her comfort zone can be difficult because she gets very nervous and has anxiety issues. Having a little brother has helped her have more confidence to try new things.

What is the philosophy behind your menu?

My philosophy is to start with the best quality ingredients I can find, (many of which are local) and create interesting, yet in a way, familiar dishes.

What is your favorite herb? 

My favorite herb? That’s like asking someone which of their children is their favorite! I like them all equally; they all have unique qualities! 

Which vegetables do you wish that you had growing right outside your kitchen?

I love the idea of a large vegetable garden growing outside the kitchen door! I would utilize asparagus, bok choi, carrots, daikon, eggplant, fennel, greens, horseradish, jicama, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, radishes, sorrel, Valencia tomatoes, ulluco, watermelon, yams, and zucchini. 

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