Culinary Experiences with Jan Buhrman


Food enthusiast teaches range of workshops in the coming weeks.

Jan Buhrman has been cooking on-Island through Kitchen Porch, her catering and event-planning business for 22 years. But that’s not all this high-energy, fast-talking Chilmark resident does.

In the past three years, she added cooking classes to her repertoire. The addition was natural, since she worked in education as a librarian at the Oak Bluffs School for 16 years and at the M.V. Public Charter School for another 12.

“I’ve been cooking all my life,” Ms. Buhrman says. “I came from a very large family, but I never thought I’d be catering.” Her mission is to reinvent the way people experience food.

Kitchen Porch’s credo lays it all out: “We believe that locally grown, sustainable products are vital to our health and to the future of our farms. We align ourselves with those who care about the environment and promote sustainable agricultural practices because we believe that food is intimately connected to nature and ‘you are what you eat.'”

In the next weekend alone, she will offer a special series for mothers and daughters (grandmothers, aunts, girlfriends, and cousins, too), serving dinner, tea, tea sandwiches, and cooking demonstrations. She’ll also team up with Gail O’Brien for a class called “Nourishing Mind & Body — Healthy Eating Habits,” on Friday, May 7, from 8 am to 12:30 pm.

Dr. O’Brien, proprietor of Vineyard Vitality, the Oak Bluffs nutrition counseling enterprise, formerly taught at Brown University Medical School. She practices primary care internal medicine, and she’s an advisor to individuals on healthy food and lifestyle choices.

Ms. Buhrman, who contacted Dr. O’Brien after seeing an ad, enjoys joining forces with other like-minded experts. She met Island chef Robert Lionette last fall at a Slow Food M.V. dinner at Zephrus, and last month they coordinated an Earth Day Dinner designed to demystify organic versus local food.

“Jan and I have the same vocabulary,” Mr. Lionette says. In recent weeks he has taught lunchtime and evening classes with an emphasis on healthy recipes and local sourcing, at the Kitchen Porch facility across from the Steamship Authority reservations office at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

Unusual food items often show up as part of Ms. Buhrman’s repertoire. She offered one class in quinoa, a South American grain that can be a substitute for rice. Matcha green tea is the subject of a class she’ll offer Monday, May 10. This highly nutritious, finely milled tea made from high-quality, hand-picked gyokuro leaves, appears in a variety of food recipes. It is the drink served at Japanese tea ceremonies.

A workshop on the medicinal tea kombucha, which Ms. Buhrman compares to yeast, is scheduled for Monday, May 17.

“I got my start at the Farmer’s Market, working with local farmers to use their produce in value-added products,” Ms. Buhrman says. The first year she offered spicy peanut sauce. Then she produced specially flavored vinegars and infused oils. Another time she sold smoked fish.

“The idea is to learn about where it [the food] comes from,” Ms. Buhrman says. “To tell the story behind the food, and every produce we use. If the eggs are from off-Island, why?”

Kitchen Porch uses Allen Farm for meat, but if an event is big, for at least 150 people, that’s not possible. Instead she’ll go to a nearby New England farm.

Ms. Buhrman’s broad knowledge of foods comes not just from her undergraduate education in agriculture and library science from Leslie College and the University of Minnesota, or her master of science in education from Bridgewater State College — but from her travels. At age 20 she traveled around the world.

“I would always go to local farms and markets,” she says. “It’s about living locally, knowing where your food comes from. I feel I’ve come full circle, using my teaching experience as well as my cooking.”

In the future, Ms. Buhrman hopes to partner with people from other cultures. Already in the planning stage is a tour of Italy in October, which will include visiting farms and learning about what’s grown where.

Kitchen Porch’s blog recounts experiences such as her recent visit to the White House, and Sunday Night Suppers, the Washington, D.C. event to raise money for two organizations fighting poverty and hunger. The idea of writing a book, she says is a “maybe.”

At home, Ms. Buhrman has a ready crew of tasters in sons Oliver, 19, and Oren, 13. Husband Richard Osnoss manages Kitchen Porch for her.

If you’re a boating enthusiast, you can even take a catering voyage with Jan on the yacht MacNab at sunset. Good local food from an informed expert off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. What could be better?