Chef Walter Bundy, Lemaire – Richmond, VA and Fried Green Tomatoes with Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Salad
For over a year we have been On the Road in search of some of the best farms and chefs that we can find. We are always intrigued by our chef interviews and this interview with Executive Chef Walter Bundy of Lemaire at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia was certainly no exception. Our conversation with him was different than many interviews we have done in the past. Listening to Chef Bundy’s philosophy on being a chef and relating it to his personal life was refreshing.
A native Virginian, Chef Walter Bundy has been at Lemaire since 1998. He began as a Sous Chef and was promoted to Executive Chef in 2001. A graduate of both Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and the New England Culinary Institute, he had a history of working with great chefs prior to coming to Lemaire. In Santa Fe he worked for Mark Miller at Coyote Cafe. In Napa Valley, California he did his externship at Pinot Blanc and worked under Joachim Splichal before going on to work with Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.
Chef Bundy has been invited to participate in several prestigious James Beard dinners and has received many accolades. He has also appeared with Bobby Flay on an episode of Food Network’s Food Nation. In 2009, Esquire magazine called Lemaire one of the Best New Restaurants in the country, after Lemaire reopened with a new focus and new menu.
Some great chefs have also worked alongside Bundy at Lemaire including several that have gone on to open their own restaurants: Philip Denny of Six Burner in Richmond, and perhaps, most notably, Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk in Charleston. Chef Bundy is passionate about what he does and believes that good people attract good people and people that are passionate about what they do attract people that are equally as passionate.
As the son of a Naval physician, Bundy has had the opportunity to live all over the country during his lifetime, however he has chosen to make Richmond his home. Originally from Richmond, he gets very excited when talking about the city. He said that cooking had allowed him to explore life and experience different places, however, he loves the lifestyle that Virginia offers: the great schools for his two children, and the close proximity to the mountains, ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. He loves the change of the seasons, the rich history and the great local artisans. He said Virginia is a unique place. A passionate outdoorsman, you might find him enjoying some of the beauty Virginia has to offer by hunting, fishing or kayaking, when he is not in the kitchen.
One of the biggest differences we found with Chef Bundy is his commitment to a balanced life. He wants to be able to walk away from work after twelve hour days and enjoy life outside of Lemaire. This is in contrast to one of his mentors, Thomas Keller and one of the chefs that trained under him, Sean Brock. Keller and Brock would easily be called workaholics. Not to say that a chef who works twelve hours a day isn’t a workaholic, but these other chefs devote their full attention to their restaurants and their businesses. This is one reason Chef Bundy has not opened his own restaurant. He can go home and not bring his job with him. He wants to see his family and not regret that he missed his kids growing up. It’s a balancing act and one that he seems to have figured out.
Chef Bundy has always been an avid hunter and this may be one of the reasons that he turned to cooking. He lived on a farm while in school at Hampden-Sydney College and hunted and prepared dinners for friends with animals that he had harvested. He is very thoughtful about hunting and is proud of the whole process of harvesting, butchering and preparing one of God’s creations. He said there is a real gratification to the whole process and experience, especially when it’s shared with family and friends.
When asked about the change that Lemaire went through in 2009 from a fine dining restaurant to a more casual and relaxed atmosphere, he says they redid the restaurant at a perfect time. People could still experience a fine dining atmosphere if that is the experience they wanted, but they could also go to the new bar area and just have a drink and a small plate. He says that the change did not affect his cooking style and that he still is doing what he has always done which is to “serve the best and freshest local ingredients prepared as simply as possible”.
When asked what suggestion he would have for an average home cook, he said “It comes down to caring about what you do. Make it look and taste right. There are a lot of recipes out there that say they have been tested and they haven’t. Use them as a guideline. Don’t think it’s God’s word and take it to be accurate. If it needs salt, use salt. If it needs to be richer, add more butter or cream. Don’t be confined to the recipe.”
He went on to say that “Recipes are general guidelines, so don’t take them to heart. If I were a pastry chef, then I would follow a recipe. Baking is a science. In cooking, things change. Vidalia onions get sweeter as the season goes on. You need taste and re-taste. Let the sugar and salt dissolve. Walk away. Have someone else taste it. Taste it later.”
We also talked about ingredients in recipes. This is something that I have discussed many times. The ingredients that you use in a recipe matter. If It says “red tomato”, Chef Bundy is using an Heirloom tomato. You cannot expect the same taste or results from a hybrid tomato from your grocery store. The types of ingredients you use are critical to the flavors of the final dish.
In addition to supporting many local farmers and growers, Chef Bundy started Bundy Farms in the hotel’s parking lot. It is truly an urban garden. From here he can harvest his own herbs and other produce such as Heirloom tomatoes. He is particularly passionate about saving the seed strains that are significant to the history of Virginia.
When The Bunkycooks discussed the drastic changes we have made in our own food purchases over the last year, you could see this chef light up. He said there is a real satisfaction when you live a more wholesome life and understand where your food comes from. “There is an energy that goes into it. It’s your responsibility as a person cooking it and there’s a satisfaction that you get while cooking it.” We certainly have felt that way and it has changed our lives.
Chef Bundy said, “I know this sounds corny, but It’s all about the love. What you put into it is what you will get out of it.” His words could not be more true.
Thank you so much to Chef Bundy and the staff at Lemaire. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting him and experiencing many great dishes that were prepared with that “love”. When you visit Richmond, I highly recommend that you dine at Lemaire. We found the food inspired and fresh. Every bite erupted with a burst of different flavors. The dishes were flavor forward allowing the quality of the fresh ingredients to come through.
Chef Bundy has shared a very special recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes and Chesapeake Bay Crab Salad. His unusual preparation for making the Fried Green Tomatoes turned out spectacularly. Be sure to use firm green tomatoes. At this stage (when they are green), they do not have much flavor, so Chef Bundy marinates them for a half hour. The tomatoes are marinated in a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sugar and basil, then drained, battered and finally, finished with a coat of Panko. They are then frozen on a cookie sheet and kept frozen until you are ready to fry them.
This method allows the exterior to turn to a nice golden brown, while the interior is perfect and doesn’t get mushy. He has developed this technique over many years of trial and error (and now we are the lucky beneficiaries of that!). Be sure to use firm green tomatoes and ones that do not have much flavor. They will have plenty of flavor by the time you have finished the dish.
We served this dish as a perfect light summertime dinner. It is also incredibly impressive to serve to guests. You will be very content when this dish is paired with a nice bottle of crisp white wine and a loaf of crusty French bread.
Next week I will be visiting two more of our favorite places in Richmond. One of these was to our friends at Manakintowne Specialty Growers. Have a great weekend!
Disclosure – Thank you to Lemaire for providing one dinner during our stay.
Fried Green Tomato And Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab Salad
Yield: Serves 8
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
This salad is served with local sunflower shoots and toasted pecans, buttermilk, garden basil, and Maytag blue cheese vinaigrette.
6 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 cups rice wine vinegar
½ cup water
¼ cup basil, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cups flour
2 cups buttermilk mixed with 5 whole eggs
4 cups freshly ground Billy Bread crumbs (or Panko [Japanese style])
1 cup kosher salt (*I used about 1/4 cup Kosher salt)
1/4 cup fresh ground white pepper
Buttermilk, Garden Basil, And Maytag Blue Cheese Vinaigrette:
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp fresh garlic minced super fine
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp Worchestershire
1/8 cup fresh basil chopped fine
1/8 cup chives minced
1/2 cup crumbled Maytag blue cheese
For Frying Tomatoes and Assembly of the Salad:
2 cups canola oil
12 inch high walled skillet
4 cups fresh sunflower shoots or any nice salad greens (* I used local micro greens)
1 pound jumbo lump blue crab (picked over for shell fragments )
1 cup toasted pecans
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Mosto lemon oil (* I used Meyer Lemon infused Olive Oil)
Banyuls vinegar (* I used Champagne Vinegar)
Method for marinade:
Mix the rice wine vinegar, basil, sugar, and water together.
Slice the green tomatoes evenly with a sharp knife.
Place tomatoes in a casserole dish layered evenly and cover with the marinade.
Let the tomatoes marinate for about 30 minutes.
Drain them in a colander for about 5 minutes.
Method for breading:
Lay the green tomatoes out on a cutting board and season with kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper.
Carefully, place the seasoned tomato in the all purpose flour. Lift it out and shake off the excess flour. Then, drop the tomato into the buttermilk/egg mixture and remove it. Let some of the egg wash slide off. Then drop the tomato into the bread crumbs and thoroughly coat. Lay the breaded tomatoes on a parchment lined cookie sheet and place in the freezer until ready to use.
Method for Vinaigrette:
Place all ingredients except blue cheese in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together. Gently fold in the crumbled blue cheese. Whisk to incorporate if needed.
Method for Frying Tomatoes and Assembly of the Salad:
Heat the oil in a skillet until it reaches 325 degrees (med high).
Shallow pan fry the tomatoes until golden brown. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Let cool slightly until you are able to cut them in ½.
While cooling, place the picked crab into a mixing bowl with the sunflower shoots. Add some of the e.v.o.o., banyuls vinegar, and mosto lemon oil to the sunflower shoots and crab. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.
Drizzle the buttermilk, basil, and blue cheese vinaigrette around the plate.
Place the warm tomato halves on the plates in a pinwheel shape. In the center, put the crab salad down and toss some toasted pecans over the salad. If desired, put some crumbled blue cheese over the tomatoes.
Executive Chef Walter Bundy
Lemaire - The Jefferson Hotel