For corporate Chef Brian Stickel, flavor is the most important thing.
“A tomato grown in my backyard has time to fully ripen and develop the best flavor,” he says. “Fresh figs taste like honey. You can’t get that with ingredients that have been shipped long distances.”
Lucky for him, and other Virginia chefs, the Old Dominion’s agricultural diversity offers an array of fresh ingredients at their fingertips. That’s good news for customers, too. When browsing menu items at Virginia restaurants, whether it’s fresh fruits and vegetables, scallops, oysters, lamb or even a glass of wine, there’s a good chance it came from Virginia.
As corporate chef of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which consists of 14 properties across Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland, Stickel has relied on local ingredients for more than 10 years.
“Virginia is a great place for local products,” he says. “We’re so close to the ocean, but also have a lot of farmland. With restaurants in D.C., people don’t realize how much farmland there is, and you can tell that the flavor of a local ingredient is different.”
He adds that Clyde’s sources from mostly the same producers for all of their restaurants, which means the farms have to be big enough to supply the entire group.
“We use Edwards’ Surryano Ham, pork from Autumn Olive Farms, grits from Byrd Mill Grits and many other products from farms including Hartland Orchards, Endless Summer Harvest, Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative and Westmoreland Berry Farm,” he says, to name a few.
For autumn, the restaurants served one of Stickel’s favorite dishes, Pork Osso Bucco, using locally raised pork, sweet potatoes and Swiss chard.
Local Roots restaurant in Roanoke is another establishment taking advantage of Virginia’s fresh bounty. The farm-to-table restaurant works with ingredients from local farmers, growers and wineries, that not only care about flavor, but also their environmental impact.
Matt Lintz has been the executive chef at Local Roots since January 2014. He says it’s his responsibility to make available the highest quality ingredients he can find, so consumers have the best experience possible.
“This area is fantastic for an abundance of ingredients,” he says. “Anything from artichokes to grass-fed bison is available.”
Lintz says Virginia producers really care about what they’re doing. It makes it even more special when restaurant staff can visit the farm, meet the people behind the scenes and then transform the farmer’s amazing raw ingredients into something delicious.
“I like to let the ingredients do the talking and shine on the plate,” Lintz says. “One menu item I feel really represents the restaurant is our vegetable salad on the dinner menu. It’s constantly evolving to showcase great local vegetables, greens, herbs and flowers at peak freshness.”
Chef Greg Haley, of Amuse restaurant in Richmond, also strives to use local, seasonal ingredients. He says diners are learning to like what’s seasonally available.
“Consumers come back because of the local ingredients,” Haley says. “There’s a very strong community awareness. It’s almost a must-do in business these days, because society is finally getting back to eating seasonally.”
Haley has been at Amuse for more than four years. The restaurant is housed in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and uses only the best of what’s in season.
All three chefs mention the heightened flavor local ingredients bring, but also the importance of supporting local farms and the economy as well.
“It’s very important to support the local economy,” Haley says. “Every region in Virginia has something different, and it’s all great.”
He’s been using Manakintowne Specialty Growers in Powhatan County for all of his produce and egg needs for a while now.
“They’re a great community that have actually transitioned into a food hub,” Haley says. “So they partner with other farms, like Agriberry, to deliver produce.
For fall, Pumpkin Bisque was a menu hit. It incorporated three different varieties of heirloom pumpkins, Virginia maple syrup, butter and fall spices.