Heat Wave

Grab your Duke’s, it's a hot tomato summer.

It was supposed to be a one-off. A weeklong event in 2021 that would highlight, and hopefully benefit, local businesses after their doozy of a 2020. But Duke’s Mayo diehards are, well, diehards, and Hot Tomato Summer is back for year two, this time with nearly triple the number of participating restaurants.

“We opened it up to everyone,” says Duke’s marketing manager Rebecca Lupesco.

From pop-ups like Oro and SmashedRVA to mainstays like Can Can, more than 50 Richmond restaurants are participating in this year’s campaign, running from Monday, July 18 through Sunday, July 24. There are also about a dozen Greenville, S.C. restaurants (home of Duke’s creator, Eugenia Duke) hosting their own Hot Tomato Summer.

Lupesco says the only stipulation for participating restaurants was to add one to three new dishes combining tomatoes and Duke’s to their menu for the week. “We try to leave it as open as possible so chefs can really make it their own,” she says.

This autonomy means that restaurants can share the details of their dishes far and wide on social media, or they may choose a more enigmatic approach.

Whether or not they research the menu ahead of time, diners are sure to stumble across traditional offerings like River City Roll’s BLT made with “meaty” Hanover tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon and the perfect smear of Duke’s.

Or perhaps a classic Southern staple will beckon, like newly opened sweet shop Pies and Cakes Bakery ‘s tomato pie, made with a “buttery, flaky pie crust filled with Duke’s Mayo and mascarpone custard and topped with amazing tomatoes from Village Garden and fresh basil.”

Diners looking to mix things up will also find food—and drink—that pay homage to the classic summer pairing in unexpected ways.

Take, for instance, the Smoky Mug’s “Rickey at the Garden Party,” an original cocktail by bartender Danny McDermott featuring “tomato and pineapple Duke’s mousseline-washed gin, tomato and lime cordial and Topo Chico.”

And then there’s JewFro and Soul Taco owner/chef Ari Augenbaum, who seized the opportunity to go full ‘Chopped’ and use the simple summer staples to whip up some truly inventive, nuanced dishes.

Augenbaum says that Soul Taco’s Hot Tomato contribution was inspired by the ultimate nostalgic, tomato-centric comfort dish—tomato soup and grilled cheese. The riff on the classic will feature a cheese pupusa stuffed with confit tomatoes and bacon jam, served with a charred tomato aioli using Duke’s.

“On the JewFro side, we really wanted it to feel like a real summer dish,” says Augenbaum. In true JewFro fashion, the dish is inspired by both Jewish and African cuisine while also blending in true southern, American flavors. Please see: Mr. Pibb glazed ribs with a side of mashed taters and slaw.

Of course, the ribs are beef (no pork at JewFro), and will also feature a tomato shakshuka glaze, plus spices like cilantro and garlic and cumin. The coleslaw brings in the Duke’s plus Ras el hanout, a Tunisian spice blend, while the potatoes incorporate more African elements like the Ethiopian spices niter kibbeh and berbere.

“We went in this direction because this dish screams ‘American summer’ but also imparts our JewFro vibe,” says Augenbuam.

In addition to sating his culinary creativity, this year’s campaign also marks the beginning of what Augenbaum hopes will be a long and fruitful partnership with the iconic Southern brand.

“We’ve tried our best [in the past] to do dishes with Duke’s and post our pictures and videos on social media hoping they would pick it up and every time they didn’t,” says Auguenbaum, who feared the brand was simply not interested in his creations. “When they reached out to us this year, we realized it wasn’t us! So not only are we retroactively very happy about that, but we’re very excited to be included this year.”

Augenbaum’s business partner Nar Hovnanian says they’ve been rocking their Duke’s swag in the kitchen in anticipation of the big event. “We’re really excited, we saw the event floating around on Instagram last year and we thought ‘This looks so cool,’” says Hovnanian. “When they reached out to us we did a little giddy dance.”

While the highlight of the event is the celebration of tomato season, Duke’s and the local food scene, the campaign also has a philanthropic bent—something like Duke’s-flavored icing on a tomato cake, perhaps. Duke’s will be donating $5,000 to support nonprofit Shalom Farms and Sauer Brands will be matching this with their own $5,000 donation.

“I hope we can expand this every year,” says Lupesco. “Cities like Charleston and Nashville— there’s just so much potential.” Here’s to hoping the brand can continue spreading twangy joy for many more hot, hot summers to come.

To find a full list of participating restaurants, head to the Duke’s website. For updates on fun giveaways and to see the Duke’s team chow down on every available Hot Tomato dish around town in real time, follow them on Instagram, @dukes_mayonnaise.


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