Get to know the Chef and you will start to enjoy dining out even more. ~ John Walters
Planning outdoor dining events can be a bit stressful, especially when they include many chefs, several food purveyors, farmers, winemakers, and guests that have traveled long distances to experience something very special. Add to the mix the coordination of a number of venues in different cities and this year’s unpredictable weather and you have a situation that requires a lot of backup planning.
In mid-April, the week prior to our On The Road culinary adventure to Jefferson’s Virginia, Mother Nature decided to give us one last blast of winter bringing snow and frightfully cold weather to Virginia. We were relying on beautiful freshly picked local produce harvested from several farms for our meals, so days shy of the event, we still weren’t quite sure how everything was going to turn out. At this point, springtime was at least three weeks behind schedule making for a tense situation. Frequent updates from everyone involved helped to calm the anxiousness around the event.
Days before we were to arrive, the sun smiled brightly and brought temperatures to a staggering 90 degrees in Richmond. The fertile soils of Virginia began to burst with life. The grasses greened up, flowers sprouted, and yes, there was even produce to harvest. To make it complete, the Cherry Blossoms were in full bloom. Our timing was both extraordinarily lucky and perfect.
Springtime in Virginia was everything we had hoped it would be. From our first evening’s farm dinner at Manakintowne Specialty Growers, to our luncheon in the orchard at Monticello, followed by the fine dining experience at Lemaire, and our visit to Olli Salumeria, our expectations were even exceeded.
When I plan these events, I start with a specific vision and theme. What I had pictured for our guests could not have been executed more beautifully by the many people involved. When we arrived at Manakintowne for our tour and farm dinner Sunday evening, a gorgeous farm located a half hour outside of Richmond, the sun was brilliant in the sky and brought a comforting warmth to the slight chill in the air. As our guests began to arrive, the chefs, winemaker, and purveyors who had come from as far as the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in Charlottesville, were busy prepping for the dinner.
As the sun set on the farm, we enjoyed a Sauvignon Blanc from Barboursville Vineyards, selected to pair with the menu by winemaker Luca Paschina. It went perfectly with the briny roasted oysters and steamed clams with drawn butter brought over fresh that morning by Tom Gallivan of Shooting Point Oysters. Several neighboring farmers and friends of Rob and Jo Pendergraph of Manakintowne gathered with us for the evening contributing their own produce, like fresh asparagus, for our dinner. Billy Fallen of Billy Bread fame also brought his legendary bread to enjoy with our meal.
Executive Chef Walter Bundy of Lemaire and his sous chef, Patrick Willis, were joined by Lee Gregory of The Roosevelt and Aaron Cross from Fossett’s to create and prepare a truly memorable dinner. Several courses included: a beautiful hand picked salad harvested that day from Manakintowne Specialty Growers; seasonal Soft Shell Crabs with a Ramp Salsa Verde; and a a dish of creamy Anson Mills Slow Roasted Polenta with Spring Asparagus, Manakintowne Leeks, and Sauteed Spinach. Dinner was served family style paired with several Barboursville wines.
As the stars filled the sky and the temperature began to fall, we moved into the farmhouse for dessert and coffee. The Pendergraph’s home and farm provided a beautiful setting for our first event on this culinary adventure.
The next morning we boarded our executive coach and headed to Monticello. We were again blessed with gorgeous clear blue skies and warmer temperatures; a perfect day to tour the gardens and grounds of Monticello with Gabriele Rausse, the Director of Gardens and Grounds and one of Virginia’s first winemakers.
As our guests wandered through the gardens, asking many questions of Gabriele, we saw Pat Brodowski, the Head Gardner at Monticello, tending the gardens. We had met Pat several years ago at Monticello and spoke to her prior to our luncheon in the orchard about what would be available for our lunch that day. The gardens had rebounded nicely after the late snow and our chef for the event, Dean Maupin of C & O Restaurant, was able to create a lovely menu for our guests.
Dining in the orchard at Monticello is a rare privilege experienced by few. As I walked toward the tent that was set up for the chef and saw our tables in the orchard adorned with floral arrangements in brilliant colors of orange and green, and the beautiful Virginia hills overlooking the Shenandoah Valley in the background, I was overcome by emotion. It was perfect.
As our guests enjoyed a three-course luncheon featuring produce harvested that morning from Jefferson’s historic gardens, our courses paired beautifully with two locally produced white wines: Virginia Wineworks Viognier and Gabriele Rausse’s own label Viognier. Almost like something in a movie set, every so often the breeze would blow, giving respite from the sun, showering our table with fluttering petals from the Cherry Blossoms. Finishing our lunch, as Jefferson would have done at the end of a meal, we enjoyed a fine Madeira from Broadbent Selections.
Dinner that evening at Lemaire was the ideal end to what had been a stunning day. Our group chatted, getting to know a bit more about each other, over dinner in the beautiful private dining room in the restaurant. Chef Bundy and his culinary team outdid themselves on the five-course Tasting Menu with wines selected by General Manager, Greg McGehee. Every course was perfectly executed and beautifully plated.
Highlighting some of the best regional and seasonal ingredients, our first course was a Vidalia Onion Bulb Bisque topped with Nassawadox Creek Shooting Point Oysters, Virginia Country Ham, Chive Blossoms, and Fermented Hot Sauce. Paired with a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, the third course of Blackmouth Wild Chinook Salmon with Green Garlic, Baby Carrots, Wild Miner’s Lettuce, Parmesan Risotto, and a Truffled English Pea Coulis was a favorite. The evening’s finale was nothing less than a showstopper. Paired with a Broadbent Madiera, Chocolate Chambord Terrine with Cara Cara Orange Ice Cream, Grand Marnier Anglaise, and Rhubarb Compote was truly decadent.
Our last stop on this culinary adventure was to Olli Salumeria in Mechanicsville, Virginia, a short drive from Richmond. Oliviero Colmignoli is a cured meat artisan whose family is from Rome, Italy. He relocated to the United States six years ago bringing four generations of meat curing expertise with him. Olli, as he is known, is making his salumi and aged meats in Virginia as his family has done for many decades in Italy.
Our group was able to tour their facility and learn about the process of creating these savory meats. Olli explained their sourcing methods and that they only use humanely raised pork. We were able to see the entire process of creating the salumi from grinding the meats to adding the different types of seasonings and then on to the stuffing, aging, and packaging. Following our tour, we enjoyed a sampling of Olli’s products while our guests continued to ask questions about their salumi and learned about Olli’s expansion to a new California facility to reach more customers and add to their product line.
After several days with our guests, it is always hard to say goodbye. Through our On The Road culinary tours we hope to bring people closer to their food, to educate them, to feed them well, and for them to get to know their chefs. Food is always so much better when you know where it’s coming from, who is preparing it, and when it’s served amongst friends. Food also tastes better when you see how it is grown and how it is produced since you take the time to enjoy not just the flavor, but to relive the experience.
One of the dishes we had at our farm dinner at Manakintowne Specialty Growers was Barrel Smoked Chicken Breasts with Garden Rosemary, Garlic, and Beeline Honey. Smoked in a smoker built by Lemaire’s Sous Chef Patrick Willis and marinated with honey from Jo’s bees at Manakintowne, this chicken was phenomenal. Chef Bundy has shared the recipe for you to prepare it at home.
If you are interested in joining us on a future On The Road culinary adventure, sign up to receive email notifications (click here) and stayed tuned. We are working on some exciting trips for 2014!
I want to personally thank everyone who participated in this event in Virginia. It was extraordinary and we could not have done it without all of you.
Jo and Rob Pendergraph at Manakintowne Specialty Growers
Executive Chef Walter Bundy – Lemaire at The Jefferson Hotel – Richmond
Sous Chef Patrick Willis – Lemaire at The Jefferson Hotel – Richmond
Chef/Co-Owner Lee Gregory – The Roosevelt – Richmond
Chef Aaron Cross – Fossett’s at Keswick Hall – Charlottesville
Tom Gallivan – Shooting Point Oysters – Franktown
Ann Arseniu Gallivan – JC Walker Brothers – Willis Wharf
Luca Paschina, Winemaker at Barboursville Vineyards – Charlottesville
Billy Fallen – Billy Bread – Richmond
Glenn Roberts – Anson Mills – Columbia, South Carolina
Greg McGehee, General Manager – Lemaire at The Jefferson Hotel – Richmond
The staff at The Jefferson Hotel – Richmond
Chef Dean Maupin – C & O Restaurant – Charlottesville
Gabriele Rausse, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello – Charlottesville
Pat Brodowsky – Head Gardener at Monticello – Charlottesville
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello – Charlottesville
Amy Webb – Blue Ridge Floral Design – Charlottesville
Oliviero Colmignoli and his wonderful staff at Olli Salumeria – Mechanicsville
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Barrel Smoked Chicken Breasts
Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 12 hours
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 16 hours
1 gallon water
1 cup Kosher salt (or 1/2 cup regular salt)
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup fresh Rosemary pieces, removed from stems
8 chicken breasts (airline cut)
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup honey (or more, if needed)
Chopped, fresh garlic, to taste
Additional whole sprigs rosemary
Combine all ingredients for brine in a large non-reactive stockpot. Bring to a boil, stirring to completely dissolve salt and honey. Bring to room temperature and then refrigerate until mixture is chilled. Add chicken breasts and cover. Brine in refrigerator for about 12 hours.
When ready to cook, bring a smoker to 220 degrees F. Remove chicken from the brine, rinse, and pat dry. Rub all over with garlic oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Combine honey with a little chopped, fresh garlic and drizzle on both sides of chicken.
Place chicken breasts on rack in smoker, skin side up. Place whole rosemary sprigs on top of the chicken breasts. Drizzle the chicken occasionally with the marinade of honey and garlic and smoke until temperature of the breast reaches about 165 degrees F, about 2 hours.
Executive Chef Walter Bundy
Lemaire - The Jefferson Hotel