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The Elbys are Sunday and (what feels like) the whole town (but is most likely a minority of very food focused individuals) has gone GA-GA! The local Twitterverse and RVA social media have been consumed. I am no exception, having spent much time and thought on not only the award categories and the nominees themselves, but many hours on the more exciting aspects of dress! hair! make-up! This year, Richmond’s premiere restaurant industry event somehow feels different. A bit more exciting. More…defining.
Since 2011, but specifically in the last 18 months, our city-town (as I lovingly refer to it) has become very serious about food. Well, maybe not SO serious, but certainly people involved in food in Richmond, whether it be restauranteurs, chefs and cooks, coffee roasters, distillers, brewers, farmer’s market vendors, growers, food trucks, even those covering our food scene- all have been stepping up their game.
Sure, there have always been committed culinary folks, pioneers carving the way, whether or not RVA was ready for it. However, there is definitely a new movement afoot, Elbys founder and Richmond Magazine editor Susan Winiecki mentioned it taking shape when I interviewed her last year. Watching our chefs and eating establishments in national magazines on a now semi-regular basis is a sign. The influx of outsiders who wish to open food businesses here, yet another. The number (hordes?) of entrepreneurs opening groceries, eateries, bars, hospitality consulting firms, under-ground supper clubs and high-concept ventures-a clear guarantee to where we are headed.
All of this is wonderful news of course! Who doesn’t love a food town?
But with any local awards event, now matter how miniscule or insular, it’s inevitable that people feel slighted, egos grow or are shattered and cynics call phooey on the whole shebang. Well, I’m writing this to say, we ain’t got time for sour grapes people! We are in this together-the many before us, the plenty whom are presently busting hump unnoticed and those who are or will soon be leading the way. Richmond deserves the recent attention we’ve received. We deserve it because we are growing together, pushing each other, and promoting our city as a whole, and not just individually.*
It’s important for the food community get together, to acknowledge, celebrate and inspire each other-awards or not.
I am overjoyed at the opportunity to recognize the efforts of those working toward not just our potential as a food destination, but as a city where visitors and locals alike can eat fantastic meals- from the high minded to the humble and feel welcome at Richmond’s collective table.
*True, there are those just out for themselves, we know who you are.
Maximum Flavor is the latest book by husband and wife dynamic duo Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot. Together they run the Ideas In Food blog where they blow the minds of novice cook and skilled pro alike by sharing their innovative, experimental, and technique driven cooking. Last Monday night at a dinner celebrating the book release, Chef Joe Sparatta along with Chef Lee Gregory of The Roosevelt welcomed Alex to Heritage to share some of those recipes with Richmond.
Obviously, having Alex in Richmond was thrilling for the gang at Heritage and for the RVA diners who sold out the event. Aki was unable to be there, busy tending to another event in what I imagine to be a hectic schedule for the pair.
Alex made very clear her importance in their collaborations, “There is no ‘Ideas In Food’ without Aki.”
A human fly on the kitchen wall, I myself was looking forward to witnessing the complicated choreography of a busy kitchen, with not only a special guest and a slew of new dishes, but also a handful of chefs who would normally be in their own restaurants. I was determined to stay out the way and watch the mayhem of a busy kitchen play out.
Servers brought in hand written tickets, ecshewing the P.O.S. system for the night. Cooks filled clay bowls, beautifully handmade by one of the servers, with pepperoni ramen (wakame noodles, octopus, watermelon radish) and plated succulent lamb shoulder (yellow mustard gnocchi sardi, in a lamb heart ragu). Joe ran expo, constantly checking in with wife and co-owner Emilia, who had the front of house locked down with the help of their expert staff. Emilia’s brother, co-owner and bar manager Mattias, was joined by T. Leggett (also of The Roosevelt) on bar and featured a special cocktail menu. Alex delighted diners by running food and explaining dishes. I was struck by all of these pairs from the authors themselves and the chefs who executed the 5 course meal, to the husband and wife restauranteurs and two of RVA’s favorite bar men.
Chef Sparatta’s M.O. appears to be the more the merrier, always focused on including his fellow chefs and cooks in events and collaborations when he can. The RVA restaurant community is better for it. It was nothing short of joyful to watch this group of friends, busting hump together, laughing quite a bit and making many happy bellies in the process. Some pics below:
A good drink, is a homing device.
At different times during my drinking life I have been loyal and true to various concoctions; the long lost Gin Gimlet of my own roaring twenties, the more recent Boulevardier, my on again off again sweetheart, the Manhattan.
As a serial regular, I peruse the menu but ultimately never stray. Once I find my drink to adore, I continually return to it.
That’s what happened with me and the Lincoln at Pasture,
for the last 8 months, it was my only. A stimulating and yet soothing mix of bourbon, sambuca, angostura, and orange liquor.
Like an embrace from your grandfather, post cigar and Sen-Sen, the Lincoln was comforting and masculine. It was my leather easy chair.
But change was in the air.
Jeff and Beth, Pasture’s lovely bartenders had braced me for its eventual departure from the cocktail list, to make room for new exciting drinks, giving me ample time to get used to the idea of moving on. I smiled politely at them and imagined my future self simply continuing to order my beloved Lincoln, off menu.
I hardly expected that their recent revamp of their cocktail list, would lead me to my new flame!
Meet the Remington.
Similar to the Lincoln, though decidedly less grandpa, the Remington feels like an old friend that I need to catch up with. It’s served neat and serious and has a “let’s get this thing started” quality (the Cocchi di Torino, perhaps?).
Among the 5 new additions to the menu, the tart and vibrant tequila based Palmer also pitched some definite woo. You can acquaint yourself with the Remington and all of Pasture’s new cocktails here, and then mosey down to Pasture and taste for yourself.
When word comes through that a restaurant in town has changed up their drink menu I make it my business to take a looksee. Yesterday I had the pleasure of trying 3 of the recently debuted cocktails at one of my most favorite places in RVA to enjoy an adult beverage, Lemaire at The Jefferson Hotel. Bar manager Scott Harris welcomed me with a plate of pimento cheese and I wasted no time getting to know the menu.
The new cocktail list features refined classics with an emphasis on exploring flavor. The most notable addition is a “Create Your Own Manhattan” feature where you can spend lots of time (and money if you are inclined) marrying numerous bourbons to vermouth and bitters. And I plan to.
Below are the three drinks I had of the 10 on the new list, 5 served up, 5 over ice.
Gator’s Ghost- Cathead vodka, Cointreau, Aperol, fresh juices, house made ginger beer
Named for the storied Jefferson alligator, it is lively and has a pleasant zing from the ginger beer. Quite delicious and it goes down very easily (blame it on the A-A-A-A-A-Aperol).
Shady Grove- Virginia bourbon, house spiced cider and sorghum.
Citrus cuts the syrupy sweet sorghum and hints of cardamom and anise come through on the cider. An apple pie love letter to Virginia, it is already very popular with guests.
Monument and Boulevardier- Bulleit Rye whiskey, Carpano Antica, Byrrh
This was my favorite of the three as the Boulevardier (which is a Negroni with a Southern identity crisis) is dear to my heart and liver. The addition of the French amaro Byrrh brings some woodsy, bitter-fruit depth. I’d like nominate it to be Richmond’s signature cocktail.
That is where I had to stop but tomorrow is another day and there was a rum Old Fashioned I had my eye on….
I started Food Punk to create a space to celebrate food and music. Where else could I herald the magic of both Ramps and Pusha T? Cooking, like music, is an art. Both can be visceral, sensory experiences that transport, inspire and define us. I’ve often found that those who play with knives are also into ‘deep cuts’ of another nature. It is in this spirit that I bring you this series: HEARD! highlighting the music enthusiasts behind the line, the bar, the pass and the pen.
Danny McDermott is bar manager at Acacia
in Richmond, VA. His cocktail shake brings all the boys to the yard.
What was the first live music performance you attended?
The first show I ever went to was at the Drexel Student Union building in Philadelphia with my brother and his friends back in 1997/1998 featuring Ink and Dagger amongst other hardcore bands. I was 16/17 and it was my first experience with moshing and bloody noses…It was the show that started to lead me down the road of punk/straight edge/hardcore with Minor Threat, Earth Crisis, Fugazi, etc.
What was the most recent?
I’m pretty sure it was the New Kids on the Block reunion tour at the Super Dome in New Orleans, where Tami Chynn taught me how to “wind”.
What album/artist changed/defined/etc your life?
There have been multiple and its all space specific.
When I was living in DC and got involved in the anarcho-bike punk scene (anti-corporate globalization protests, black bloc stuff) it was all about political punk and agitprop..i.e. Fugazi, Q and not U, Against Me!, Propaghandi, etc. It was all sweaty punks, track bikes, and politics.. good times.
In New Orleans, it was bounce music that changed everything–especially because I met my boyfriend at a bounce party at St. Roch Tavern. From the Godfather of bounce Dj Jubilee (especially Do You Thang Girl) to Sissy Bounce. You should really check out Gitty Up feat. da Rumpshakers or Big Freedia (have you seen the video for Y’all Get Back Now? well you should!). It was all about rump shakin’, getting down on the floor and being free–something New Orleans does better than any other city.
Do you have a musical equivalent to a guilty pleasure?
Too many, from the boy bands of the 90s to J-Pop (Pizzicato Five, etc.) to crappy pop of today, sometimes–just like shitty TV—you just want to turn off your brain.
What album is your go to for when you wanna smash stuff and life is sticking it to you?
Gotta go back to Against Me! “Baby I’m an Anarchist”
What album is your go to for fist-pumping-this-is-the-best-
Not so much fist-pumping, but The Flaming Lips always reminds me of the good days in NYC riding over the Manhattan Bridge from Bed-Stuy to Lower Manhattan, because It’s Summertime.
What is on your turntable at home right now?
I also really like to sing–I don’t do it much anymore, but I’ve been singing for ages, from classical in Carnegie Hall to dressed in raunchy drag singing punk versions of You Are My Sunshine as the lead singer for the Chicken Missiles at the Red Hook Bait and Tackle (the bar where I got started) in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
It’s only Wednesday and this week is looking mighty special so far!
First, a group of fabulous humans have collaborated on a project which explores Southern identity through its foodways. The result of their efforts, A Spoken Dish, debuted this week and the internet is in love. So am I. I’ve watched many of them and am trying hard to resist so I don’t run out and have to stop. The good thing is-looks like they’re working on more!
This spectacular series of vignettes got me thinking about my own ties to Southern food. It got me thinking more specifically about where my love of Southern food has taken me.
For instance, as a double Yankee, spending most of my life in NYC and Massachusetts I did not have my first BBQ rib until very recently. My grandmother’s cornbread recipe, is polenta. That is not to say I denounce my New England/NYC heritage, I will wax poetic on some fried clams, and sing about pizza if you’ll let me.
But back in 2007 a little dish I’d never heard of called Pimento Cheese ended up changing my life. It sent me on a path I am still forging, what I imagine could one day become my own Southern identity.
Wild, right? Well, fortunately there is an organization for folks like me.
Who find home to be not the place I came from, but a place I’m still moving towards, a place I am still learning about and figuring out. A place shaping me, but allowing myself and others like me to help continue to shape it, as it constantly evolves.
The Southern Foodways Alliance hits Richmond this week for its Women, Work and Food Summer symposium. There will be much eating and drinking. There will be celebrating and learning.
There will be truths discussed, some heavy and some light, all lyrical.
There will be connections made and friendships forged.
That to me, is why I am so grateful for my place at their table.
Look, I know this sounds crazy, but that first bite of spicy, mayonnaise laden spread was a catalyst in my search for meaning. It led me not only to the SFA, but to many incredible people, to self discoveries, and thankfully to creative realizations and pursuits which continue to this day.
It helped me to discover how deeply food defines us. How it connects us and how it gives us our sense of place. Even if that place is very unexpected.
It set me on a path toward home. I’ll let you know when I get there.