The Richmond dining scene received a dizzying number of accolades last year. And with three chefs — Peter Chang China Café’s Peter Chang, Lee Gregory of the Roosevelt and Southbound, and Acacia Mid-Town’s Dale Reitzer — receiving nominations for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Mid-Atlantic last month, the attention shows no signs of letting up.
For a long time, Richmond has been on the brink of becoming, like Nashville and Charleston, South Carolina, a place in the South with a dining scene that ought to be taken seriously. A lot of that’s because of one man: John T. Edge. The head of the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Mississippi, visited Richmond in 2012. He was so impressed, he decided to hold the alliance’s first summer symposium here.
Why is Edge so influential in the food world? His organization’s fall symposium attracts the country’s leading food writers, editors and chefs. It combines serious academic scrutiny of the intersection of food and culture with a lot of memorable food made by chefs out to impress each other.
Edge speaks and the food world pays attention.
But there’s another factor that can’t be ignored. Richmond chefs have taken their show on the road. They’ve been invited to cook at events in Washington, Atlanta and Charleston. They’ve been ambassadors to the Southern Foodways Alliance’s fall symposium. Two chefs, Peter Chang and Dylan Fultineer, cooked at the James Beard House — another high-stakes, invitation-only event. All of these things create buzz beyond the city.
The latter is a double-edged sword, nonetheless. While chefs spend more time away from the kitchen, quality in the dining room can suffer. Some lauded restaurants are outstanding when their chefs are on the scene preparing food, but should be avoided on nights when they’re absent.
Consistency, after all, is the mark of a great chef. Dishes that are transformed into the extraordinary under one person’s hands must be reproduced by others for the restaurant’s survival — and reputation. It takes only one bad meal to lose a customer and that customer might happen to write for The New York Times.
These are growing pains — the spotlight is new. As it widens, more young people in Richmond may be inspired to get into the kitchen and learn as much as they can. Chefs from outside of the city will come and leave handpicked talent in charge. As the local dining scene continues to get better, could 2015 be the year the sous chef comes into his or her own? — Brandon Fox
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