Top Chefs of Virginia: Chemel, Gregory and King

by Patrick Evans-Hylton | Posted: Jun 16, 2015

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Virginia is America’s first food region, an early amalgamation of food and foodways from Native Americans, the English colonists, and an Afro-Caribbean influence.

Over the years some food traditions have remained, but even those have had a facelift or two, adapting to modern palates and the country getting a true sense of place in the world’s cuisine scene.

At the forefront of flavors are the kitchen artists, the Top Chefs of Virginia. From time-to-time we’ll chat with some of these tall toques about what inspires them, and why they chose to create their craft in the commonwealth.

This is part of a continuing series. Grab a napkin, you’re going to be drooling soon.

 

 

EXECUTIVE CHEF BERTRAND CHEMEL
2941 Restaurant | Falls Church

Chef Bertrand Chemel.

Chef Bertrand Chemel

From a summer job his grandmother helped him secure at age 14 in a neighborhood bakery in his native Montlucon, France, Executive Chef Bertrand Chemel has built on his experience and reputation in running the celebrated 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church.

Following his culinary education, Chemel worked in lauded kitchen in Europe, including the two Michelin star La Bastille Saint Antoine at Grasse. He has been a chef since 2000.

“Food is such an important part of French culture and I’m grateful I was able to grow up in such an inspiring community where my passion for the culinary arts was able to flourish,” says the chef.

Chemel’s credential building continued when he moved to New York, working with the world class chef Daniel Boulud for eight years, eventually becoming the Executive Chef at Café Boulud, earning one Michelin star during his tenure.

In 2008 he moved to Virginia, overseeing the fine dining 2941 Restaurant, where he immediately gained accolades from The Washington Post.

2941 Restaurant features American Contemporary cuisine with French and Mediterranean influences. Stunning views are also served: three-story floor-to-ceiling glass windows offer views of koi ponds, waterfalls, the chef’s garden and lake.

Signature dishes include Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Grand Marnier dressing, avocado, fried shallots and basil oil, as well as the Daffy Burger: fresh-ground duck topped with seared foie gras and served on a brioche bun with a side of fried and onion agrodolce.

Chemel and 2941 Restaurant have garnered numerous recognitions, including 2011 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalist for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic, 2010 RAMMY Award Winner for Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year, awards in Washingtonian, Northern Virginia and DC magazines, and named one of the Essential 38 Restaurants in Washington D.C. in 2013, 2014 and 2015 by Eater DC.

The chef has cooked at the prestigious James Beard House in New York on several occasions, most recently in September 2014 at the Virginia Rising Stars dinner.

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Let’s talk food in Virginia.

I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to work with local and regional foods whether it be produce, artisans, farm-raised meats, and more. I enjoy the changing of the seasons in Virginia and with all of the weather changes, it continues to keep me on my toes as a chef always looking to work with what is super fresh and available.

I look for ramps when they are in season, and Virginia oysters. I really love Falls Church Farmers Market which offers a wonderful variety of vendors featuring local produce, meats, cheese, dairy products, and more. I also really enjoy Virginia beer and wine. So many exciting places popping up all over Virginia including breweries, wineries, distilleries, and even cideries. Virginia has so much to offer.

What makes Virginia’s cuisine scene so special?

Virginia offers such a vast opportunity for the culinary world. We have mountains, the ocean, Chesapeake Bay, fresh water sources, farms, vineyards, a booming wine, beer, and distillery scene – the possibilities are endless. Virginia’s culinary and food scene is growing rapidly introducing more local chefs with unique restaurant concepts drowning out some of the outdated chain restaurants that have long saturating areas throughout Virginia.

What’s a favorite Virginia wine/cider? Virginia beer?

I’m a big fan of RdV Vineyards, Barboursville Winery, and Thibaut-Janisson Winery, to highlight a few. Foggy Ridge Cider has also become a seasonal favorite cider from Virginia. They make lovely, clean, and fine textured ciders mostly on the drier side. We use the higher acidity cuvee as an accompaniment to our refreshing Maine Sea Scallop Ceviche summer dish, and the richer and sweeter versions make wonderful aperitifs for a cheese plate.

I have to say I’m really impressed with some of the craft beers coming out of Virginia and it’s hard to choose just one, but I’m a fan of Heritage Brewing Company, some of the interesting craft beers made by Adroit Theory Brewing, Mad Fox Brewing Company, Lost Rhino Brewing Company, and Port City Brewing Company, amongst others.

Lost Rhino Brewing Company

Lost Rhino Brewing Company

You are on the forefront of food, what trends do you see?

I definitely see the addition of fast casual and upscale casual restaurants continuing to pop-up throughout Virginia, the addition of unique eclectic restaurants that focus on Filipino cuisine and other new and exciting cuisines, chefs working closer with farmers to create exclusive produce/farm raised meats just for them/their restaurants, more culinary collaborations, and in general way more love for the amazing things that are happening right here in the beautiful state of Virginia – events, culinary tourism, etc. I also see a much bigger Virginia oyster boom happening. House-made sauces and condiments.

What are five things in your home refrigerator right now?

Wine, cheese, Sriracha sauce, Arbequina olive oil, and plenty of fresh fruit

What is a cookbook or food-related book folks should be reading?

Lior Lev Sercarz’s The Art of Blending which features 41 blends along with recipes and cooking tips provided by renowned chefs and culinary minds.

I really respect and enjoy working with Lior; he blends beautiful custom spices for some of the most respected chefs throughout the US and beyond. I use his signature spices frequently in many of my dishes at 2941 Restaurant. We’ve hosted him for special Spice Dinners here.

 

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CHEF/OWNER LEE GREGORY
The Roosevelt | Richmond

Chef Lee-Gregory

Chef Lee Gregory

Watching television paid off for Lee Gregory, owner of two renowned Richmond eateries, The Roosevelt and Southbound.

“I was watching the early days of the Food Network, old Justin Wilson show, The Frugal Gourmet and episodes of Great Chefs as a kid,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t going to be a real 9-to-5 guy. It all made sense.”

Gregory attended culinary school at the (now closed) Johnson & Wales University in Norfolk, but says his real training came from another Richmond chef.

“Dale Reitzer of Acacia taught us everything. How to cook. How to taste. How to source local. How to work. And how to have fun while we did it. He was a great mentor,” he adds.

Gregory left Acacia for Six Burner in Richmond and then headed kitchens at eateries in the Shenandoah Valley before returning to River City in 2011 to open The Roosevelt.

“The Roosevelt is a neighborhood restaurant at it’s core. We try to showcase the best of Virginia and the southeast, keep it simple, and keep it affordable.

“We have an all-Virginia wine list to go with our outstanding bar program, and a regional beer list too,” he says.

The menu changes quite a bit with the season and with the whim of the chef (recently it ran the gambit of roasted catfish, seared scallops, bistro steak and a double cheeseburger), but a signature dish that’s been constant is the Southern Poutine, a decadent riff on the Canadian classic: crisp French fries topped with pimento cheese and sausage gravy.

“It’s completely bastardized, but it is just incredibly tasty. You can’t beat it.”

In 2014 Gregory also opened Southbound in partnership with Joe Sparatta of Heritage.

The chef and The Roosevelt have received a lot of attention over the years: write ups and kudos in The New York Times, Southern Living, The Local Palate, Bon Appetite, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and others.

Then last year, Gregory was named a 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards Semifinalist for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic.

“I never saw the Beard nomination coming at all … it just wasn’t on my radar,” he says.

“It means a lot, it keeps giving us as a restaurant something to strive for, and is a complete honor to be mentioned in the same breath as people that I grew up admiring from afar. And it’s totally incredible for Richmond and Virginia, it gives us something to hang our hats on. An incredible honor.”

Lee also credits Chef Alain Jacqmin and wife Martine at the fine-dining(the now-closed) Le Chambord in Virginia Beach as a mentors, and time working at such restaurants at The Inn at Little Washington and The French Laundry.

The Roosevelt

The Roosevelt

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Let’s talk food in Virginia.

I really love everything from the Bay; we are lucky to have that. I love softcrabs, rockfish, and bluefish. We really love all the small pork and lamb farmers we have as well. They all do such a great job at raising animals with such care. It makes it easy for us to sell.

Our thing at The Roosevelt is eat local, drink local. We try to invest as much money as we can back into our own community. It is fresher and less of a carbon footprint, we all know that, but it also helps build the community.

What makes Virginia’s cuisine scene so special?

It’s great here in Richmond, we all are friends, and we have found that if we all work together we can make more noise than just one person could ever. Kind of rise together; it means more for Richmond, and Virginia that way.

What’s a favorite Virginia wine/cider? Virginia beer?

Barboursville Vineyards makes great drinking wine, and they are one of the most accessible. They do a dynamite job.

For beer, I like Ardent Craft Ales; I like almost everything they do.

You are on the forefront of food, what trends do you see?

Sandwiches are still getting cooler. There are more upscale markets, and specialty food shops. Also I see better ethnic markets trending.

What are five things in your home refrigerator right now?

Orange juice, Claussen pickles, hot sauce, yogurt, canned biscuits

What is a cookbook or food-related book folks should be reading?

Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto by Aaron Franklin. It’s got a lot of explanation of the craft in it; food theory, kind of. I like those kinds of books; they help you understand their way of doing things, so you can then do it your way.

 

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CHEF TARVER KING
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm | Lovettsville

Chef Tarver King. Joshua Timmes Photo.l

Chef Tarver King. Joshua Timmes Photo.

A sense of how much food is an art form as well as a source of sustenance must be genetic.

Tatiana McKenna, grandmother of The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm’s lauded chef, Tarver King, was friends with such gourmet gods as James Beard and Julia Child, food editor for Vogue magazine, a cookbook author as well as contributor to Gourmet Magazine in the 1960s.

Fast-forward a half-century and it’s Tarver’s turn for culinary celebrity, having garnered three James Beard Foundation nominations for Rising Star, Best Chef in the Southeast and Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic.

“I’ve never felt more humble and proud,” he says. “To be nominated was a big deal to me and my family. My mom was really proud.”

But there are other accolades too: named one of the top ten chefs to watch in Esquire magazine, nominations for best chef in Washington D.C. by the RAMMY association, garnering a Mobil five-star and AAA five-diamond award while at the Woodlands in South Carolina, and more.

“The very first day that I worked in a restaurant I knew I wanted to be a chef. When I was little my father told me I had to get a job, and that I wasn’t going to grow up to be a bum. He said I had to work for what I wanted, and that nothing was going to be handed to me.

“So the first thing I found was a job washing dishes at a place called Tandom’s Pine Tree Inn. Its not open anymore. When I walked into the kitchen, I saw all the things my parents told me to stay away from growing up. Fire, bad language, sharp knives, drugs, loud music, and I said to myself, ‘Oh man this is for me’. It was the perfect job for spite against parents I figured.

“Then I got to work with my hands. I had mostly worked on light chores and video games up to that point. So it was new to me, and I really liked it. I liked learning that the faster I washed the dishes the more the cooks liked me. I liked learning that the cleaner I was the more the chef liked me. And then I eventually got to work with food.

“I was fortunate enough to work for some very passionate, and kind hearted people who liked to teach. I learned then, and I still learn now, that the world of food is bigger than I will ever be able to comprehend, and it’s the pursuit that is the reward, and that there is no end to it. I knew without doubt that I chose the right path for me.

“My father’s words were harsh at the time, but I thank him for it every day.”

The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

Chef Tarver King at work.

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Let’s talk food in Virginia.

As one of the first farm restaurants in the United States, Patowmack Farm has always respected where our food is sourced.

The goal has been to nourish our community and our environment with a sustainable system, promote education about what we consume, serve the freshest food from our farm and local ingredients and encourage nature to table eating, using our fields and surrounding forests as the source of inspiration. We aim to surprise and satisfy with attention to detail creating a holistic experience that keeps the diner engaged.

Our Grown, Raised and Found prix fixe menus gives the opportunity to dine on sustainable, local, organic cuisine that is reflective of the seasons.

I whole heartedly try to embrace the relationship to the food grown on the farm and draw from what the region has to offer, crafting a daily changing menu.

Each course draws its inspiration from the seasons and harmony with the earth and on what the local farmers, fisherman and foragers provide. This serves as inspiration for the cuisine. With a progressive, sustainable cuisine, we use all the bounty that our land has to offer. Our deep understanding and commitment to organic ingredients allows us the ability to give our guests a unique experience not soon forgotten.

That’s our goal anyway, and what we strive for every day.

I was born in New York, but I don’t remember it. We moved away when I was 3.

I grew up in Virginia Beach for 19 years. I moved around a bit but always loved this area the most.

I fell in love with the mountains of Virginia when I worked at The Inn at Little Washington. And it’s also where I met the love of my life, my wife, Sheree, who was working in pastry at the time.

So we have always had a love for Virginia, and always will.

How does that translate to your menu?

We don’t have any signature dishes per se. I try to avoid having something to be expected for our guests. I want each visit to our farm to be unique and unencumbered by expectation.

However, there are a few ‘experiences’ that we’ve used quite a few times that we get known for to the regulars such as; beef on a stone, and the chestnut soup.

The former, is a giant river stone from the catoctin creek that is heated very hot, and the guest gets to cook their beef themselves at the table.

The later being when the chestnuts come into season we make soup, and lite a chestnut leaf on fire under the soup bowl. It gets extinguished moments before it gets to the table so there is a subtle aroma of burning leaves as you eat the soup.

It really takes you to a far away place in memory.

What’s a featured Virginia wine/cider? Virginia beer?

The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm features a number of noted wines and ciders like Ankida Ridge 2013 Pinot Noir, RdV Vineyards 2010 Lost Mountain red blend, Linden 2013 Hardscrapple Chardonnay, Castle Hill Celestial cider, Foggy Ridge handmade cider, and beers such as Lost Rhino Brewing Company pilsner.

Many signature cocktails feature spirits from nearby Catoctin Creek Distilling Company. – editor

 

Patrick Evans-HyltonPatrick Evans-Hylton, a Johnson & Wales University trained chef, is a Norfolk, Va.-based food journalist, historian and educator. His work has appeared in print, television, radio and social media since 1995. Evans-Hylton calls his cookbook, Dishing Up Virginia, his love letter to the state’s foods and foodways. He blogs at PatrickEvansHylton.com

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