Chefs from The Rock Barn in Arrington, Virginia offer a sampling of their charcuterie and their pickled okra dog
Before the holidays, I was invited to attend StarChefs.com’s annual DC Area Rising Stars honoring chefs from Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. The hubby, my usual partner-in-crime at these sorts of events, was out of the country, so I asked my dad to tag along with me. My dad stayed behind after Thanksgiving to help me out with the kids and after more than two weeks of having children literally hanging off of his limbs, I think he was glad for the night out. What I didn’t realize was that inviting him was like inviting a tasting guru and Tasmanian devil all in one.
Top: wagyu tartare, egg, squid ink bread, and pickled watermelon by Lee Gregory of The Roosevelt in Richmond, Virginia; bottom: Kyle Gregory of The Arsenal at Bluejacket mugs for me
But more about my dad later. The event was a gala tasting featuring the award winners of this year’s StarChefs.com Rising Star designation. I’ve been away from the DC area for the past 5 years (and haven’t really followed the food scene here since then), so being able to see so much talent from the area gathered under one roof was really an amazing opportunity to get to know some of the folks who have made names for themselves here. Plus, there was delicious food everywhere I looked. In other words, it was heaven.
Top: one of the evening’s best dishes, a wagyu short rib with malt and salsify, was by Graeme Ritchie of VOLT in Frederick, Maryland; bottom: Top Chefs Bart Vandaele and Bryan Voltaggio offer their support at the VOLT table
The award plate given to Austin Faucett of Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, Virginia and his revelation of foie gras in a peanut soup
The standout dishes for me were a melt-in-your-mouth wagyu shortrib with malt and salsify prepared by Graeme Ritchie of VOLT (Top Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s restaurant in Frederick, Maryland). The malt was a perfect savory contrast to the tender wagyu (I think it was also one of my dad’s favorites, judging by the way he pulled me away, mid-conversation with another chef, to yell at the top of his lungs, “THIS BEEF IS INCREDIBLE” to anyone and everyone nearby.) I also loved Chef Austin Fausett’s dish of foie gras in a peanut soup. I mean, not that foie gras isn’t an incredible ingredient to start with, but the glorious, creamy peanut soup it bathed in gave a really interesting balance between two types of earthiness.
My other favorites were a braised octopus with lentils, wheat berries and pistachio by Matthew McGhee of RANGE, another Voltaggio enterprise. I might be biased in this regard because I really, really love octopus, but this particular dish was one of the best preparations I’ve had in awhile. The octopus was perfectly seasoned, with a creamy texture that really played off of the inherent grainy bite of the wheat berries. But my dad’s clear winner was the pure, unadulterated bliss provided by a man with a entire Iberico ham leg who shaved slices off for passers-by. A Spanish cured ham made from black Iberian pigs who graze freely off of olives and acorns, Iberico is prized for its buttery, rich flavor. Eating it feels like a luxury, which it is — a 12-pound boneless hunk costs over $600. I literally could see my dad’s eyeballs flash dollar signs as he repeatedly pulled an Oliver on this man (“please sir, may I have some more?”).
Top: featured cured meats from Parts & Labor Butchery in Baltimore, Maryland; middle: sour cherries, Valrhona chocolate, cola, and pistachios made by Giane Cavaliere of Rogue 24 in Washington, DC; bottom: Sarah Malphrus of Woodberry Kitchen presented buttermilk sorbet,oat granola , sorghum, and green apples
Desserts didn’t disappoint, either. My favorite was a creamy buttermilk sorbet perched atop crunchy oat granola with swirls of sorghum and paper thin slices of green apple. The sorbet was just that right hint of sour to cut some of the sweetness of the dessert. I also used my dessert round to pile up on more house cured meats by Parts & Labor and Red Apron Butchery. To me, charcuterie can be enjoyed as just about any course. Why limit yourself to meat only at the beginning of a meal when you can have it just about anytime? That just makes good sense.
But really, I don’t need to puff on and on about how good the food was or how great it was to get to meet some of the folks making DC’s food scene explode. Just take a look at this guy. He’s shiny and happy from all the Iberico and the foie and the endless food. And that, to me, made this event the very best.