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Friday, October 30, 2015

The Delicious Heartbreak of Fire, Flour & Fork

You can't eat everywhere.

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 5:41 PM

It all comes down to choices — hard choices. The city’s big food event, Fire, Flour & Fork, is a four-day extravaganza of fancy dinners, seminars and demos. Chefs from across the country flew in this week to sell books, talk about the industry and demonstrate how to make a dish or two via overhead cameras and occasionally cranky equipment. The upshot? The samples that chefs pass out show why most of us sit in front of the stove instead of working professionally behind it.

But there’s a lot going on. Thursday night's dinner at L’Opossum sold out shortly after tickets went on sale, so I was unable to go. I was whining like a 3-year-old who just ate sand until I saw that there was another dinner, Farm-to-Fork, at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market with James Beard Award-winning chef Joe Kindred, of Davidson, North Carolina’s Kindred restaurant.

Six courses, paired with wine, made you forget the menu was gluten-free. Or I should say, it made a lot of people realize that food free of gluten is just food. Nothing odd, nothing strange, and nothing last night was missed. The clear flavors of outstanding ingredients were allowed to shine without a lot of impediments in the way. Dessert by Ellwood’s pastry chef Ingrid Shatz — a honey pie with an oat crust, served with apples and honey-pecan brittle — made me feel a little emotional, it was so good, and I pray to the gods of dining that the store soon will sell these little pies so that I can eat them again — possibly every day.

Meanwhile, Style contributor Jack Lauterback pulled up a chair at Graffiato’s Beer vs. Wine dinner the same night and files the following report:

Despite the absence of Graffiato head chef Mike Isabella (because of a family/personal matter), the Devil's Backbone/Breaux Vineyards dinner last night lived up to its boozy billing.

George Pagonis, Isabella's partner in Kapnos and Kapnos Taverna in Washington and Arlington, joined fellow Washingtonian Marjorie-Meek Bradley of Ripple and Roofers Union in the kitchen for five courses, each paired with its own wine and beer selection.

The anise hyssup cavatelli paired with the Devil's Backbone Smokehaus Dunklewiezzen was this writer's star of the evening. The pancetta-wrapped pork tenderloin with the Breaux "Graffiato" Nebbiolo also had the sold-out crowd buzzing — or maybe that was just the endless rounds of beer and wine.

Dinners continue through Sunday — hopefully, we'll all survive — and you can catch Lauterback in person at Amuse at VMFA tomorrow at 3 p.m. for the Devil Made Me Do It bartender battle.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mezzanine's Todd Johnson Lands at Ellwood Thompson's Natural Market

It's the perfect fit for the farm-to-table chef.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 10:34 AM

Culinary Institute of America-trained chef Todd Johnson, owner of the now-closed Mezzanine, has found a new home. He’s taking over as executive chef at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market.

The store recently renovated to expand its food offerings from hot-bar and prepared-food fare to food made to order. It gave its community room a makeover, added beer on tap and wine by the glass and renamed the space the Beet Café.

Mezzanine, Style's 2009 Restaurant of the Year, was one of the first restaurants to launch the farm-to-table concept, and Johnson developed a network of local farmers and producers.

“Ellwood’s is a leader in the local food scene by not only providing local and healthy food for the community but also educating around it,” Todd Johnson said in a press release. “I am excited to come in and better the experience of what Ellwood’s is currently offering.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tuffy Stone and His Team Take Home the Biggest Barbecue Prize of the Year

Man, his ribs are good.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 28, 2015 at 1:31 PM

Ribs: The meat shouldn’t fall off the bone, despite popular notions to the contrary, but it should have a silky, tender chew. But it can’t be tough either. And the brisket — when you slice it, it needs to hold together — but just barely.

“When you’re working at that level of perfection,” says Tuffy Stone, “it’s intense.”

Stone, owner of Q Barbeque, Rancho T and the Sharper Palate, won the 2015 Jack Daniel's World Championship International Invitational Barbecue competition last week, along with his Cool Smoke team.

This is a little like winning the Oscar for best picture or the Pulitzer Prize. Actually, it’s more like winning the Nobel Prize in barbecue. The first two are national contests and the Jack is international. And Stone’s done it twice — he also took home the grand prize in 2013.

Co-host of Destination America’s “BBQ Pitmasters,” Stone had an large entourage throughout the entire competition. In addition to his three-man team that included his father, Snake River Farms, Yeti Coolers, representatives from his PR firm, a couple of uncles and Daniel Vaughan, the barbecue editor of Texas Monthly surrounded him.

Add to that Stone's celebrity on the barbecue circuit. He’s also won the 2013 American Royal World Series of Barbecue Invitational and the 2014 American Royal World Series of Barbecue Open.

Plus, don’t forget — “Barbecue Pitmasters” has made him a TV star in this world. That meant fans were coming up to him throughout the day while he was cooking to ask for autographs and photos. It was a crowd — non-stop.

“I always take the time to talk or take the picture,” he says. “But as far as that goes, it’s a big challenge to hit my marks and cook as well as I want to — it’s a world championship! Everyone there is a grand champion of some contest or the other.”

And the schedule for the Jack is tight. At 11:30 a.m., the judges start with sauce, and each half-hour, chicken, ribs, pulled pork and brisket are due in succession. It’s a lot of cooking times to juggle.

For Stone, most of the work comes in the preparation. He’s known as “the Professor” on the circuit and is a classically trained French chef. That means he drills down on the details of the process to achieve perfection that competitions demand. Pieces of wood are cut in half vertically and then split horizontally. He chooses the best ones out of the pile to load in his truck for the trip west. He searches for the particular cuts of meat that he thinks will cook better than others and will make those choices all over again when he send the cooked meat to the judges. He tears dozens of pieces of aluminum foil and crimps them together.

“I have my whole mise en place together — which is something no one from barbecue would ever say,” Stone laughs.

He started that morning of Oct. 24 at 4 a.m. and tried to stay focused despite the constant interruptions. When it came time for the winners to be announced, Stone was sitting on a hay bale in the back. For the first time, he felt good about what he’d produced in every category — he usually looks at his food with the rigor of a restaurant reviewer —and Vaughan, a keen critic of barbecue, liked everything.

“Everybody just wants to be called one time — to be one of the 10 winners in one category,” he says. But he wasn’t entirely happy when he won third place for his sauce. There’s a superstition among competitive pitmasters that if you do well in the sauce category, you won’t do well in the meat categories.

“I was thinking in my head, ‘We’re sunk,’” he says.

Stone was called to the stage three times — for his chicken, ribs and pulled pork — but says the category that you don’t win has the potential to sabotage your chances as grand champion. His stumbling block this time was brisket — he didn’t even place.

Overall, Stone thought, it was possible that he might not even make it into the top 10.

The cameras were on him. And when the announcement came, he hung his head for a moment, and with his father, made his way through the crowd. There were tears.

“They called us for the grand and it just blew my mind,” says Stone. “I probably hugged a hundred people trying to get to the stage.”

It’s back to normal for him this week — business at Rancho T, the Sharper Palate and the four locations of Q Barbeque go on. But only one other team has won the Jack twice. None have won that competition two times and the American Royal World Series of Barbecue twice.

This October, Tuffy Stone and Cool Smoke made barbecue history.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Weekly Food Notes: Coffee Dinner, Soup-er Bowl + More

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 3:03 PM

Coffee and food go together like Simon and Garfunkel — ignoring the breakup, of course. I’m surprised no one has thought about this before, but fortunately for all of us, Kitchen on Cary came up with the idea of a coffee-and-wine dinner. The restaurant, which is the service arm of culinary school Culinard, invited Alabama coffee roaster H.C. Valentine to help it with a coffee-infused, five-course, farm-to-table dinner paired with wine on Wednesday, Nov. 4. The event starts with cocktails at 6 p.m. and dinner will be served at 7. Tickets are $75, plus tax and gratuity. Call 643-1315 for details. kitchenoncary.com.

The Cask Cafe & Market is turning two and decided to throw itself a big party to celebrate on Nov. 7. The folks there have been saving exotic beer for the occasion, and once tables and tents are ready to go in the parking lot, they will unleash the DJ at 1 p.m. thecaskrva.com.

Max’s Positive Vibe Cafe will hold Soup-er Bowl II on Nov. 14 from 1-5 p.m. The Soup Nazi from “Seinfeld,” Larry Thomas, will be back in full swing as judge and jury of this soup contest, although there will be the addition of a people’s choice award this year. Participants include Perly’s Restaurant & Delicatessen, Talley’s Meat & Three and more. A $10 donation is suggested. positiveviberva.com.

Pasture Co-owner Michele Jones is the New Managing Partner of Comfort

Surprise! A local favorite turns her talents to a new enterprise.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 1:55 PM

Michele Jones, whose exuberant good humor has infused the very soul of Pasture on East Grace Street, where she’s been both co-owner and general manager, is moving to Comfort at 200 W. Broad St.

Jones won Richmond magazine's Elby award for best front-of-the-house manager in 2014.

She’ll take over as managing partner and general manager. Both restaurants are also owned by Jason Alley. Chris Chandler, who opened the restaurant with Alley in 2002, will retain a minority share in the company.

“I'm so excited about this!” Jones said in a press release about the move. “I started working for Chris and Jason at Comfort over eight years ago and have always loved it. I can't wait to get started.”

And although Pasture will remain the same, she said in an email, “I'll be making some changes [at Comfort] down the road.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Richmond Scores No. 1 in Grocery Stores

Study says more per capita than anywhere in the United States.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2015 at 9:47 AM

To no one’s surprise, Richmond ranks No. 1 in the nation for grocery stores per capita, accoding to WalletHub.

How reliable is this statistic? The website says it compiles customer reviews about financial institutions and the services they offer—it’s sort of a Yelp for money. It turned its eye to the food industry to see how cities measure up when it comes to your wallet.

“To find the cheapest culinary scenes in the U.S.,” the website says, “WalletHub compared the 150 most populated cities across two key dimensions, including affordability, and diversity, accessibility and quality."

Besides ranking first in grocery stores, Richmond also ranks No. 7 for the most ice cream and frozen yogurt shops per capita, No.11 in craft breweries and wineries, and comes in at No. 27 for the amount of restaurants per capita.

Overall, Richmond ranks No. 11 in food and drink affordability, diversity and quality. Portland was the big winner, coming in at No. 1. (Not much of a surprise either.)

You’ll find the complete listing here.

Richmond Food Event Round-Up: From Pumpkin Dinners to Fall Festivals

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2015 at 1:00 AM

Now that the Richmond Folk Festival is over, you’re probably feeling a little bereft, aren’t you? Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Not so fast — the partying continues. Here’s a more-extensive-than-we-originally-anticipated selection of food and fun in the next few weeks, happening in and around town.

Good taste: Break out the fancy duds — Savor is back. The six-year-old event brings together famous chefs with silent and live auctions to benefit the Doorways, formerly Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond, and will be held at the Jefferson Hotel on Oct. 17 from 6-11:30 p.m. Ask Jeff Corwin in-person all of those questions that come up while you watch his adventures on the Food Network’s “Extreme Cuisine.” He’ll be working with James Beard award-nominated, “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Masters” alumnus Bryan Voltaggio, who also owns the Shops at Willow Lawn’s Family Meal. A bevy of local chefs, including Brittanny Anderson of Metzger Bar & Butchery and Shoryuken Ramen’s Will Richardson, among others, will be on hand offering small plates before the event. Tickets range from $300-$1,250. thedoorways.org.

The raw side: And don’t forget OystoberFest at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church at 3602 Hawthorne Ave., mentioned in last week’s Short Order column. You can grab some Rappahannock Oyster Co. oysters, brats, homemade cakes, listen to live music, plus drink cider and a pretty dang wide selection of beer and wine on Saturday, Oct. 17, from noon-5 pm. oystoberfest.com.

The great pumpkin dinner: Pumpkin, pumpkin everywhere and even more can be found Thursday, Oct. 15, from 7-10 p.m., at Gallery5. RVA Pop Kitchens and chef T.J. Hicks will fervently embrace fall’s favorite vegetable with mulled pumpkin soup, pumpkin risotto, braised pork loin and warm pumpkin custard for dessert, all paired with cider, another fall stalwart. Tickets are $50. gallery5arts.org.

Chicken dance: The 47th Richmond Oktoberfest at the Richmond International Raceway isn’t just a beer and bratwurst extravaganza, it’s also an event that celebrates German culture with traditional dancing and music. The festivities will be held Friday, Oct. 16, from 6 p.m.-midnight, and Saturday, Oct. 17, from 5 p.m.-midnight. Tickets are $15. richmondoktoberfestinc.com.

Hoppin’ fun: At the fourth annual Virginia Hops and Harvest Festival, you’ll get to know the ingredient that’s formed the backbone of the craft beer movement. The beer starts pouring at noon on Saturday, Oct. 17, at Pocahontas State Park, with food, local brewers, artisans and a Band tribute act, the Weight. Tickets are $12.50-$15. vahopsfest.com.

Art and coffee: The coffee-and-bike Streetcar Café, located at 8 and 10 E. Brookland Park Blvd., will hold a community art show called “Local Inspiration” on Sunday, Oct. 25, from 2-5 p.m. You can enjoy live music, food and beverages, along with art and jewelry. facebook.com/streetcarcafeandbikeshop.

Fresh squeezed: Ginger Juice Co. will hold its grand opening on Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Village Shopping Center. The new store is the result of a Kickstarter campaign that brought a fresh juice business from farmers markets around town to its own brick-and-mortar storefront. From 3-7 p.m., you can try juice samples while Goatcado will provide a few more treats, plus you can receive 10 percent off purchases. gingerjuiceco.com.

Local love: Slow Food’s fall festival, Graze on Grace, will be held Sunday, Nov. 8, from noon-5 p.m., on East Grace Street between Fourth and Seventh streets. Local is the watchword here, and along with area organic farms and specialty food providers, participating restaurants will include Comfort, Pasture, Julep’s New Southern Cuisine, Rappahannock and Amour Wine Bistro — all dedicated to local farm-raised meat and produce. The event is free and samples are $3 each. grazerva.com.

Harry Potter: Carytown Cupcakes, at 3111 W. Cary St., is about to be transformed. It will be all-Hogwarts, all the time, starting Oct. 19. Themed cupcakes will be available, including the dementor’s kiss, cauldron cake, sorting hat, butterbeer, pumpkin pasty and polyjuice potion. Professor McGonagall — or a facsimile thereof — will do a reading at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 21, from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” And on Friday, Oct. 23, from 5-7 p.m., you’ll find deals on beer and wine for unhappy hour, plus a prize-studded trivia competition and butterbeer, pumpkin beer floats and mead. carytown-cupcakes.com.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Weekly Food Notes: Virginia Wine News, Oystoberfest + More

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2015 at 1:32 PM

Clean slate: City Council approved a deal last week to stop collection on a $61,118 bill in disputed back taxes that the city was charging Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.

Rent time: Doug Muir, owner of the now-closed Short Pump Village Shopping Center restaurant, Bella’s Italian, and Bellas Richmond LLC are being sued by the property’s landlord for allegedly defaulting on the restaurant’s lease, Richmond BizSense reports.

Wine news: Sales of Virginia wine have reached an all-time high, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced last week. More than 524,000 cases of wine — that’s around 6.5 million bottles — have been sold this year, up 2 percent from last year.

Beer news: Virginia breweries won 10 medals at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Strangeways Brewing was there, and Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery won a silver medal in the chili beer category for its Heir Apparent variety.

Happenings: Oystoberfest brings its brininess to St. Thomas Episcopal Church at 3602 Hawthorne Ave. on Oct. 17 from noon until 6 p.m. Beer, brats and oysters from the Rappahannock Oyster Co. will be on hand in abundance along with music and a kids’ zone. oystoberfest.com. … 7 Hills Brewing Co. is now open in Shockoe Bottom, but The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that a snafu in applying for a permit with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control means the brewpub won’t be able to sell its own beer until early October. 7hillsrva.com.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Harry Potter Comes to Carytown Cupcakes

Drink butterbeer with Professor McGonagall during the week of Oct. 19.

Posted By on Mon, Oct 5, 2015 at 5:20 PM

While Daniel Radcliffe skulks around in Richmond — just because he’s working 12 hours a day in Hopewell shouldn’t keep him off the streets — Carytown Cupcakes at 3111 W. Cary St. is jumping in with both feet to celebrate the character that made Radcliffe famous.

The shop will be transformed — it will be all-Hogwarts, all the time, starting on Oct. 19, and themed cupcakes will be available, including the dementor’s kiss, cauldron cake, sorting hat, butterbeer, pumpkin pasty and polyjuice potion.

And if you post a selfie in the bakery's flying car photo booth on Instagram and tag it #carypottercupcakes during that week, you'll have a chance to win a half-dozen cupcakes.

Professor McGonagall — or a facsimile thereof — will do a reading at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 21 of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” I’m sure she’ll point out that the original title was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” because that’s the kind of teacher she is, and I’d be happy to lend her my British copy so that she won’t trip up on certain words— sweater for jumper or pants for trousers, for instance. She is getting on in years.

Did you notice how I slipped in there the fact that I own a British edition of Harry Potter? Did I mention that I have a complete set?

The festivities aren’t just for kids. On Friday, Oct. 23, from 5-7 p.m. you’ll find deals on beer and wine for unhappy hour, plus a prize-studded trivia competition and butterbeer, pumpkin beer floats and mead.

You may think you know your Harry P. trivia, but you should come for the mead instead and accept that any 11 year old with a passion for the works of J.K. Rowling can beat you handily — no one has that kind of trivia capacity once college comes along and fills your head with SAT vocabulary words and Shakespeare. Among other things.

Broomsticks and invisibility cloaks are optional.

  • Carytown Cupcakes
  • 3111 W. Cary St.
  • 355-CAKE (2253)
  • carytown-cupcakes.com
  • Friday, October 2, 2015

    Kokonut Grill Offers a New Kind of Fusion Cuisine

    Tom and Jaclyn Tham are serving fast, spicy, coconut-laden fare in the old Chow House spot.

    Posted By on Fri, Oct 2, 2015 at 2:32 PM

    It’s a small hole-in-the-wall spot that offers something surprising — a fusion of tropical and Southeast Asian cuisine, with an emphasis on Malaysian food, which is spicy, lavished with coconut milk and less sweet than the food of nearby Thailand. Kokonut Grill, at 1201 W. Main St. in the old Chow House space, former executive Tom Tham and his wife, Jaclyn, decided to take a leap of faith and move from Northern Virginia to Richmond to open a restaurant.

    “It was a career change for me,” Tham says. “I traveled too much. … With my job, I got into a taxi in the morning and took a plane somewhere else.” Tham, the father of an 11-year-old daughter, wasn’t happy spending so much time away from his family. And he didn’t like uprooting everyone when his job as a management consultant required a move.

    The Thams have family and friends with restaurants and felt confident that this was a business they could run successfully. Richmond, with its less demanding way of life, seemed like a logical choice when the space at Main and Morris streets became available.

    Here, chicken satays are lightly glazed and grilled quickly, accompanied by a peanut sauce that is both spicy and grounded in the ubiquitous coconut. Cucumber chunks and slices of fresh pineapple are there to dunk in the sauce as well. Sweet chili shrimp arrives on a bed of finely shredded cabbage to scoop with your fork as you eat and add a subtle crunch to each bite. Both are accompanied by delicate, fragrant coconut rice.

    Quick takeout boxes ($8.95) with rice and a choice of entrees that range from beef with house-made katsu sauce to sweet chili tofu are a good introduction to Tham’s tropical dishes. “Desserts such as ABC shaved ice [also know as ice kachang — a mixture of red beans, sweet corn, different jellies and coconut milk over shaved ice], snow cones, peanut pancake and Malaysian milk bubble tea are popular too,” he says.

    “It is my heritage and I would like to introduce it to the Richmond area,” says Tham.“I don’t see [this kind of food] here and people need to try it.”

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