Community, chefs, and Shindigs

Whenever a Shindig is on, it is without doubt the best meal in town. Dozens of chefs, line cooks, servers, bartenders, dishwashers, wine reps, and producers bring their edible Sunday’s best to impress and feed their peers, while learning about and contributing to worthy community causes.

On a Sunday night in February, Heritage is supposed to be closed. Lights should be off, doors locked. But instead, there’s a warm glow emanating from the building, and inside the bar is loaded to capacity with dutch ovens and half pans covered in aluminum foil; platters of sushi and spring rolls; boxes of cookies; plates, napkins, and forks. There are about 30 people inside and more pouring in the door. They’re hugging and laughing, good friends who don’t get to see enough of each other catching up.

They’ve gathered at Heritage for Shindig–an exclusively food-and-beverage-industry potluck with the dual missions of bringing together the community and raising money for issues that hit home. Whenever a Shindig is on, it is without doubt the best meal in town. Dozens of chefs, line cooks, servers, bartenders, dishwashers, wine reps, and producers bring their edible Sunday’s best to impress and feed their peers, while learning about and contributing to worthy community causes.

So what do the people who know food best bring to a potluck? ALL THE THINGS. Delicate rice paper rolls with fish sauce; biscuits with soft, salted butter; authentic Filipino lumpia; dulce de leche cookies; a perfect chicken tikka masala–comfort foods that reflect a sense of place and an appreciation for the craft. Kendra Feather remembers some thoughtful gluten-free dishes intended for her: “I distinctly remember Ellie Basch making me some gluten-free brownies, which touched my heart. And I believe this is where fried chicken night at the Roosevelt was spawned…we had a Champagne and Fried Chicken Shindig, and Lee made me gluten-free chicken, and then I harassed him to put it on the menu.”

Lee Baedke, chef at Enoteca Sogno and regular Shindig contributor explains, “I usually make something I don’t cook a hundred times every week at work,” such as an almond bundt cake, of which Lee says, “It was a very simple cake, no sauce, no garnish, I didn’t even cut it. But I nailed it, had Bob [Butt] say it was perfectly moist, and Rachel [Zell] said it looked like a magazine photo. This is the kind of crowd that notices that kind of stuff and can geek out on basic execution of technique.”

Shortly after opening The Roosevelt in 2011, Kendra Feather and Lee Gregory announced the first Shindig, to be held at their new restaurant on their only off night, Monday. Monday is an important night in the lives of industry folk, as it’s often the only one many of them get to themselves. But Kendra recognized something more important, something genuine and valuable that could come from that time: “Sitting down and sharing a meal together just does so much for everyone. There is no judgment. Just genuine shared enthusiasm.”

Inspired by Ashley Christensen’s Stir the Pot dinners, Kendra wanted to create a way to come together and give back, and says that doing so, “has been a good way for us to reach outside ourselves as a community, to feel good about supporting a common goal.” While she’s been integral in getting the concept off the ground, Kendra insists, “I am not ‘in charge.’ I’m the nag that hounds everyone to pick a date and get the ball rolling.” The Roosevelt has hosted seven Shindigs so far, benefitting causes like The Peter Paul Development Center, Tricycle Gardens, Richmond Cycling Corps, and Holton Elementary School Garden, among others. After the fire that put Sub Rosa’s business on hold last year, a deftly-organized Shindig was able to raise $4,300 in just two hours for the beloved bakery and displaced tenants.

Richmond SPCA Chief Executive Officer Robin Robertson Starr had high praise for her Shindig experience, which raised over $700: “The Richmond restaurant community is filled with such a wonderfully generous and creative group of people, and we were really pleased to have been a part of the February Shindig potluck at Heritage. Emilia and Joe were such gracious hosts, and we felt fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know some of the restaurant owners and staff who make our lifesaving work possible!”

Likewise, Tricycle Gardens’ Executive Director Sally Schwitters has fond memories of their Shindig: “[They] roasted a pig, and everyone brought side dishes to die for, and we all had a fantastic Sunday supper together celebrating good local food and drink. [Kendra] gathered an incredible group of food and restaurant folk, and they generously supported the work and mission of Tricycle Gardens. No one tips like restaurant folk, so we left feeling the love of our local food community.”

It’s also given new producers a chance to introduce themselves and their food to their peers. Kendra recounts, “Long before Rappahannock opened, Travis and Ryan Croxton came to a Shindig and generously shucked oysters for everyone. Along with them came the shepherd from Border Springs Farm [Craig Rogers] and his lamb jerky samples.” Each new producer that comes to a Shindig shares a unique story, like ZZQ’s Chris Fultz, an architect who designed his own smoker, which he uses to smoke his signature Texas-style BBQ. Steve Kim, creator of the much-loved Kim Kim sauce, introduced his subtly spicy, sesame flavored condiment to Shindiggers by way of homemade Korean lettuce wraps that hooked everyone instantly.

For the first few Shindigs, there was a serious “no press or outsiders” policy. Kendra says that’s because Shindig isn’t about publicity; the idea has always been to create a “safe place” for industry folks to enjoy each other without worrying about seeing their names on Yelp the next day. A few of us who walked the line between cook and writer1 showed up to Shindigs without cameras, lips tightly sealed, blogs quiet, so as to be invited again. But Kendra suggests that, though she can’t predict the shape future Shindigs will take, she’s ready to let it out of the nest: “Now that it has had some time to grow, I realize that I neither want or need to be a gatekeeper in this way. And honestly, having press will possibly bring out more folks we haven’t reached.” She adds, “It may cause it to grow too quickly and ruin the organic quality it has had so far. Who knows?”

After the most recent Shindig at Heritage, which raised over $700 for the SPCA, the ship sails on to Dash, the newest venture from Estilo and Toast owners Jessica and Josh Bufford. Jessica was excited that the timing worked out for them to host. Both of their restaurants are open seven nights a week, which has kept them from hosting before, but since Dash isn’t open to the public yet, Jessica wanted to offer it up to the community that’s so enthusiastically welcomed them: “I feel a lot of love from this community who accepts and appreciates what we’re doing,” and adds, laughing, “even though we’re on the county line.” The March Shindig will support The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, for whom Jessica is part of a Woman of the Year 10-week fundraising campaign. For her, participating in Shindig is a natural fit: “Supporting a nonprofit is who we are. We do charity events every Monday because we feel strongly about supporting our community.

Photo by: John Murden

  1. Like Ellie Basch, who had just reviewed The Roosevelt for Style Weekly the week before the first Shindig and who can also get on the line and cook circles around people. 
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Stephanie Ganz

Stephanie Ganz thought there would be pizza.

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