How the crème de la crème of food are celebrating Richmond.
Over 50 local and national chefs will cook, talk, and eat their way through the four-day Fire, Flour & Fork culinary event taking place across several Richmond landmarks and restaurants this fall.
“It’s a culinary destination event to show off Richmond’s cuisine and culture now, but to also harken back to include parts of our history that are relevant,” said Maureen Egan, co-organizer of the event and co-founder of the Real Richmond food tours.
Assorted venues will host dozens of events like chef talks, demos, lunches, and dinners. Several of those venues–St. John’s Church, Monumental Church –were chosen deliberately to exhibit Richmond’s past. “We really want to show off some of those architectural and historical spots, and show them off in new ways,” Egan said.
In addition to featuring local chefs, the fall event will host many chefs from across the country. “One of the first big name chefs we were able to score for this event is Christina Tosi, a 2012 James Beard Rising Star and owner of Momofuku Milk Bar. She’ll headline the Festival of the Hungry Ghost at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Halloween. Tickets for that event are $75.
Although Fire, Flour & Fork will highlight Richmond’s tastiest attributes, local chefs insisted out-of-town chefs also participate. “We’re real hospitable here in Richmond,” Egan said. “So the chefs wanted to invite their friends that they’ve made connections with over the years back and have them at their place.”
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One visiting chef is Justin Carlisle, the owner of Ardent in Milwaukee, which was named a James Beard semifinalist for best new restaurants in 2013, an honor all the more noteworthy since Ardent was only open for roughly two months last year.1
“I’ve always wanted a smaller, more intimate restaurant,” Carlisle said by phone about his 900-square-foot restaurant with only five tables and seven bar seats. “Breaking down walls and connecting diners with the kitchen.”
A professional cook for 18 years, Carlisle sees a change happening to the country’s culinary zeitgeist. “We’re starting to finally see the United States have a food culture. The South is actually [serving] Southern cuisine that is being labeled [as such], and the Midwest is actually cooking Midwestern food,” he said. The push toward local sourcing and farm-to-table only encourages this. “I think that areas…are identifying the way that we cook with what we grow in there.”
Carlisle thinks the rise of smaller restaurants shows that diners want a more intimate setting. “Smaller restaurants that are more personal for the chefs…are more meaningful,” he said. “There’s more soul in food now. There’s a connection when you go out to eat with the people who are making your food.”
Carlisle will take over Mise En Place on November 1st during “South by Midwest.” “We’ll be doing roughly six courses of dishes that we have created from Ardent and brought them out there,” he said.
He’s also excited to pick the brains of other chefs. “All of us do these events to learn from everybody else,” he said. “To share what we are doing with everybody else.”
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“For me, it’s a community,” he said about Fire, Flour & Fork. “Hanging out with people. Seeing what’s going on. Trying their food. Building that camaraderie that we all have together.”
Having cooked for most of his life, Isabella, like Carlisle, has noticed changes in recent years.
“People want to eat healthy. They want to try different things,” said the Top Chef alumnus. “That’s why large plates aren’t as popular as they once were. “Small plate concepts are one of the biggest things because people can come in and try different dishes.”
Those dishes may often diverge from traditional cuisine to encompass the extensive training, background, and curiosity new cooks have. “It’s not just French training anymore,” Isabella said. “There’s Italian, Indian, Latin, Greek, Middle Eastern. These chefs are incorporating different techniques into their styles of food.”
Isabella will lead the demo “Getting Gnudi” on November 1st and serve small plates featuring locally cured meats, artisanal pizzas and pastas, as well as showing attendees how he makes his goat cheese gnudi.
Isabella will also join Philadelphia-based chef Kevin Sbraga at the Richmond Graffiato later that night.
“It’s got collaborations and it was…being a part of Richmond,” Isabella said about the fall event. “So for me it was a no brainer.”
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Fire, Flour & Fork has various ticket packages to allow people to attend different sessions and demos. For instance, a $50 ticket will allow buyers to attend four sessions on Friday, or four sessions on Saturday. $100 packages allows buyers to attend eight sessions over both days. Sessions will be held at both the Library of Virginia and the Hilton Garden Inn.
Tickets to individual lunches and dinners at various participating restaurants are also available, although several have already sold out.
Maureen Egan said scheduling dinners at local restaurants underscores the Fire, Flour & Fork mission to expose people to Richmond chefs and restaurants. “We wanted to get people into the individual restaurants to experience what they have,” she said.
The four-day event ends Sunday, November 2nd with the “Queen” Molly Randolph Monumental Moveable Feast at Monumental Church ($65).
When all the plates are cleared, Egan hopes Fire, Flour & Fork attendees realize just how much Richmond has. “If you dip your toe into this…I think people will be in awe of what Richmond has to offer.”
Fire, Flour & Fork runs Thursday, October 30th – Sunday, November 2nd. Tickets are available online.
photo by Praveen