And some other things, probably.
Photo by John Park.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Travis Milton is an inside man. He’s not from here, exactly. Anyone who’s heard the chef speak about his culinary heritage knows he hails from Wise County in Southwest Virginia, where his love of Appalachian ingredients, techniques, and stories was well-nurtured by generations of family cooks. But while he wasn’t born in Richmond, much of his culinary career was. Milton says he’s been here for “25-ish years,” which certainly sounds like Richmondtime. He gets Richmond, and it happily gets him back.
Bryan Voltaggio is on the road. He talks to me on the phone while he’s driving from one of his nine restaurants1 to another. This is something the chef/restaurateur is used to by now. The commutes, phone interviews, long hours spread between states–it all comes with the job.
When Voltaggio opened Family Meal at Willow Lawn a year ago, he admits, finding his place in the RVA dining community had its challenges. Not only is Voltaggio not from Richmond, he’s often being pulled to Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland to oversee his businesses there. He needed someone who could make the right connections quickly and in a way that would last for years to come. Enter Travis Milton.
“Travis is a fantastic cook,” says Voltaggio. “I’ve known Travis for years. We’ve been at events together, and his dishes and offerings have always been impressive.” But equally as appealing as Milton’s culinary talent, was his connection to local farmers and producers. “This isn’t just an outpost of what we are,” says Voltaggio. “We want Family Meal to be a part of the community here the way we’re a part of the community in Frederick.”
Last September, Milton came on board at Family Meal as a consultant, helping with sourcing and staffing in the kitchen. “Naturally what it turned into was bringing him on full-time, as I started looking at Richmond as somewhere where you need to have someone located in Richmond to do the best job,” Voltaggio explains. “He has the inside take on procuring ingredients from the best people. He already comes to the kitchen with great connections.”
For Milton, the relationship made perfect sense: “I saw it as a good opportunity to continue learning and collaborating. Those are the two things that keep pushing the food scene forward.” Milton was able to work alongside then Chef de Cuisine Ryan Kaufman for months before Kaufman went back to Maryland to launch another Voltaggio project. As of March 1st, the kitchen is under Milton’s command.
Already, Chef de Cuisine Travis has lent his touch to Family Meal’s menu, updating the existing shrimp and grits to include white gourdseed corn grits, red eye gravy, oyster mushrooms, and Benton’s bacon. He’s brought his way with succotash to the table with a version combining barley, chili-glazed sweet potatoes, kale, and pomegranate molasses. And he’s shown a sophisticated side with seared trout served with latkes, buttermilk crème fraîche, herb salad, and trout roe.
“Bryan and I have been talking about the menu a bunch,” says Milton. “In the end it will be a mash-up of sorts between what he and I do and the different styles we have. I will probably be doing a couple Shovel and Pick takeover nights there as well, which will be fun.”
And what about Shovel and Pick? It’s complicated. “I feel like I’ve been running around in circles through the town trying to find a spot that fits my vision and my price point. It’s been really tough, and it’s really made me take a step back and look at what I want to do and how it factors into my work in Appalachia,” says Milton. “I’ve invested a lot of my cooking career here in Richmond, but moving the concept closer to the subject matter of my food and non-profit work is becoming a definite and strong possibility.”
“One of the things I preach about when I talk about how food can factor into a stable economic future for the Appalachian region, is to find a way to not make it ‘extractive.’ I want to make sure that the actual communities in Appalachia are benefiting from this spotlight that the food has on it now. I’ve wrestled long and hard with how to not be apart of that extractive problem. I haven’t given up on the idea of it being here in town, I have a few ways to make sure I am still supporting communities back home. It really just boils down to finding a place that we feel comfortable with here, but I am looking heavily in Bristol, Virginia at the moment, and there are some really great places and opportunities there. So we’ll see.”
And so, while Milton considers the possibility of a place closer to his family’s roots, for now, his family is right here. “His food is fantastic,” says Voltaggio. “It’s certainly what we want to be presented at Family Meal.”
Spring is in the air, thank god, and that can only mean one thing: Time to update our cocktail menus! Saison has followed suit with exceptional style, debuting a dozen tiki-inspired cocktails this Sunday, March 13th through the following Thursday.
And what’s a cocktail without a hot dog? I don’t know; that’s not a world I want to live in. Helping me live my best life, Roosevelt chef Mike Braune will be slingin’ dogges at Saison on Sunday night only. But, if we’re lucky, a few Braune Dogs may stick around for the weekday specials menu.
This, according to Richmond Magazine, is just a (delicious) transitional step for Saison, who will return to their winter cocktail menu after Thursday, March 17th and will introduce their Spring Cocktail Menu, Official in the next week.
SHANNON SHINES AGAIN
Style Weekly’s State of the Plate issue hit newsstands this week, and L’Opossum emerged as the best restaurant of 2016. It’s no surprise–David Shannon is v. hot right now, just having been named as a semifinalist for 2016 Best Chef Mid-Atlantic by the James Beard Foundation and continuously the subject of warm praise from near and far. The issue is full of fun food content, including a look at some of RVA’s hidden-ish gems (821 certainly doesn’t seem “unsung” on Saturday morning, but I hear you…) and a gaze toward the “rustic outskirts” of Richmond and what we might find to eat there.
Is Instagram changing restaurant design? YEAH, BRO. I personally wish every restaurant would have a lightbox in a corner somewhere for me to host a mini Glamour Shots photo sesh of my dinner, and I know I’m not alone in that wish.
You’ve always suspected that there was someone pulling the strings behind those multi-restaurant-owning super chefs. [You were not wrong] (http://www.eater.com/2016/3/9/11135974/restaurant-partners-steve-cook-michael-solomonov-zahav).
SIP: UPPER SHIRLEY VINEYARDS 2013 ROSÉ
Take a look at the newest and nearest Richmond winery, and then take a sip of their rosé because it’s pretty warm outside, and that’s all the suggestion I need to start drinking pink.
BITE: TWO AND A HALF IRISH-MEN’S SODA BREAD
Our own Susan Howson sat down at Niall Duffy’s kitchen table to a feast of cranberry chocolate scones and gingery tea brack because she keeps all the best assignments for herself, not that I’m complaining. Anyway, she did get us the recipe for Duffy’s soda bread, which is the least she could do considering I received zero scones.
- That breaks down to four Family Meals, two Aggio’s, a Range, a Lunchbox, and a Volt. ↩