Richmond’s French Food Festival

As a Francophile, I knew I had to take my kids to Richmond’s French Food Festival last weekend. The Festival is a mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who assist the elderly poor with independent and assisted living as well as nursing care. Richmond has plenty of food festivals, from Greek to Indian and every type in between, but the French Food Festival was a great opportunity to try foods from all regions of France and introduce my kids to some French culture.

There were bouncy houses for my younger son to play in and a marketplace full of vendors to explore with items from gourmet foods and home decor to clothing, books and more.

For lunch, we tried a bunch of different things:  Ratatouille, Beef Bourguignon and Coquilles St. Jacques for lunch and crepes and la glace (ice cream) for dessert.

The food was delicious and my kids enjoyed trying new things, especially the desserts!

 

Fire, Flour & Fork’s Carnaval Latino

This year’s Fire, Flour & Fork food festival brought chefs, food personalities, foodies and “the food curious” from across the country to the Richmond, Virginia region to explore the best of Richmond’s food culture and history. The Carnaval Latino, a street festival held on the block of East Clay Street in front of the Valentine Museum, as well as inside the museum itself, showcased the region’s Latino heritage. From food and drinks to music, dancing, fashion and history, this event was a delicious and fun-filled evening.

First, let’s talk food. Some of Richmond’s best restaurants serving Mexican and South American specialties were represented, including Pao’s Bakery, Bocata Latin Grill, Shelly’s Comida, Flora Restaurant, Empanadas Market and more. From shrimp ceviche to lamb tacos and the most delicious tres leches cake I’ve ever had, the food was the star of the show!

There was also plenty of wine from Spain and other regions, as well as Steam Bell Beer Works, which had a delicious stout brewed with Mexican spices.

The entertainment was varied, from traditional dancing of Mexico to Colombian salsa dancing. A fashion show from a promising fashion designer who is only sixteen years old was a highlight! The Valentine Museum also had an exhibit of Latino heritage in the Richmond region, which was filled with unique artifacts and history.

My mom and I attended the Carnaval Latino to celebrate our birthdays (hers is two days before mine at the end of October), and it was a festive night out with plenty of great food and entertainment. I hope Fire, Flour & Fork does another Carnaval Latino at next year’s festival.

Fire, Flour & Fork is Coming Up!

Richmond’s annual festival “for the food curious,” Fire, Flour & Fork takes place November 2-5 in and around the city. This fun and informative festival highlights the city’s and the region’s food history and local ingredients. From signature dining events to classes and discussions, there’s plenty to discover as we celebrate the Richmond region’s cuisine.

This year’s festival features a wine tour and luncheon at Barboursville Vineyards, a “Liquid Launch” sponsored by the Richmond Beer Trail, a Street Art and Street Food Tour and much more. Local chefs and food experts like bbq master Tuffy Stone of Q Barbecue, John Maher of The Rogue Gentleman and Yaki, Jason Alley of Pasture and Comfort and many more will be cooking and discussing foods and beverages from around the world and from right in our backyard in the Richmond region.

If your interests lie in Richmond’s booming craft beverage scene, you won’t want to miss Sake at Yaki, the Gathered and Grown Cider Dinner with local restauranteur Joy Crump at Blue Bee Cider or Mezcal: Time, Place & Family at Flora on Friday, Nov. 3. Saturday’s Turning Tea on its Head at The Jefferson features tea cocktails, and Sunday’s Put a Shine on Your Holiday Cocktails with Belle Isle Craft Spirits will show you how to class up your festive drinks. Sunday’s Bartender Battle at Brenner Pass is a can’t miss event too!

The Third Annual Dabney Dinner, honoring the legacy of 18th century Richmond caterer, restauranteur and barman John Dabney, features remarks from Michael Twitty, culinary historian and author of The Cooking Gene, an exploration of food, family history and the history of the American south.

Saturday’s class pass offers a kickoff talk from James Beard award-winning chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton, then splits into concurrent sessions divided into Fire, Flour and Fork. Sessions on corn as an ingredient, Ethiopian spices, heritage grains, specialty breads and much more fill out the packed schedule.

Tickets for some of the most popular signature events have already sold out, so be sure to get your tickets early. Special “signature event and class pass” and other combination options are available this year.

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Montross Oktoberfest & Port Royal Antique Shopping

My husband and I got a rare kid-free weekend this weekend, so we headed to a part of Virginia we rarely visit – the Northern Neck. Our first stop was Port Royal, a tiny town on the banks of the Rappahannock River with a history that is long and colorful. Beginning as a colonial port town, Port Royal was also where Abraham Lincoln’s killer, John Wilkes Booth, hid out before being captured and hanged for his crime. All this information and more can be learned at the Port Royal Museum of American History, where you can also view artifacts from the local area’s history and a selection of White House china sets.

The Port Royal Trading Post has a wide selection of antiques and vintage finds, from rustic homegoods and antique books to tobacco memorabilia, movie posters and props and more.

After visiting Port Royal, we crossed the Rappahannock River and headed to the tiny town of Montross, stopping in another antique shop on the way. The annual Oktoberfest, held on the grounds of the Inn at Montross, features live music, wine tastings from Ingleside Vineyards, delicious seafood and German fare and crafts from local vendors. We had fried oyster sandwiches with cole slaw and potato wedges, and did a wine tasting before checking out the local vendors.

On our way back home, we stopped at Red Barn Antiques in Colonial Beach for some flea market shopping. We found this amazing mid-century bar, but alas, had nowhere to put it so we had to pass it by!

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Midtown State Fair

On July 16, the kids and I headed to Libbie Mill for Fire, Flour & Fork‘s “Midtown State Fair.” Held behind the Libbie Mill Library, this fun, family-friendly food festival had plenty for us to do, from great eats to crafts to cooking demonstrations and more.

When we arrived, the Virginia heat and humidity made King of Pops gourmet popsicles a necessity.

Next, we checked out the tent area, full of local specialty foods and activities for the kids. They got to spin a prize wheel and make crafts, and we all sampled some of southern-favorite Birdie’s Pimento Cheese, Nate’s Bagels and more.

 

There was a petting zoo where my kids enjoyed petting the goats, and a booth from Wandering Cow Farm with goat-milk soaps and other natural body care products.

The highlights of the day were the Filipino folk dance demonstration and the old-fashioned cakewalk.

The event was put on by the team behind the Fire, Flour & Fork food festival. Tickets for this year’s FFF, to be held in the beginning of November, go on sale August 1. Some of the events will sell out quickly, so get your tickets early!

Virginia Summer Fun

School’s out, and it’s time to find some fun this summer. Virginia has plenty to do, especially if you’re a foodie or history buff.

A handful of Virginia wineries rely on volunteer labor to harvest and bottle their wines. In exchange for working in the vineyard or the processing facility, volunteers receive credits towards purchases of wine or special wine events. Gray Ghost Vineyards, in Amissville, offers a special day for volunteers with a lavish breakfast, lunch with Gray Ghost wines and a volunteer t-shirt. Grayhaven Winery, in Mineral, offers credits towards their wines with a day of volunteering at the harvest. Near the Inn at Little Washington, Gadino Cellars‘ Harvest Day offers live music and a picnic for volunteers.

If you’re a fan of tacos (and who isn’t?), the DC Taco, Beer, Tequila Festival at the Capitol Riverfront will be a day filled with deliciousness. Two sessions offer five taco tickets, unlimited beer and the chance to try a variety of tequila’s and mezcal’s. Access to unlimited tequila and mezcal tastings are available if you opt for the Tequila or VIP ticket. Tickets start at $45 per person, and the event occurs in two sessions on Saturday, July 15.

If you enjoy living history events, you’ll love the family-friendly James River Batteau Festival, taking place June 17-24 along the James River from Lynchburg to Powhatan. Showcasing the long, flat boats, called batteau’s, that were used to transport tobacco along the river to market in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.

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What’s on your summer agenda?

 

Summer Food Events in Virginia

Summer in Virginia is a time for festivals, and the best festivals celebrate the foods the Commonwealth is known for. Here are some of the best:

*Gordonsville’s Famous Fried Chicken Festival – Saturday, May 20, 11 AM-5 PM, Gordonsville Fire Company Fairgrounds – Celebrate the “chicken-leg center of the universe” and Gordonsville’s long history of fried chicken-making with fried chicken and pie contests, a wine garden and arts and crafts vendors.

*Broad Appetit – Sunday, June 4, 11 AM-6 PM, Richmond’s West Broad Street between Henry and Adams Streets – Try $3 mini dishes from some of Richmond’s most renowned chefs and restaurants. Africanne on Main, Casa del Barco, Comfort, Graffiato, Pasture and more will create small plates to try. Beverage options from across Virginia, including beers, wines and ciders, plus local dessert makers will round out your meal. Live music and cooking demos will make this a fun day for the whole family.

*Father’s Field Day – Sunday, June 18, 11 AM-6 PM, Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison – Enjoy a variety of local food, including barbecue and various local desserts while tasting some of Early Mountain’s best wines and taking in live music and views of the Blue Ridge foothills from the patio.

*Hanover Tomato Festival – Saturday, July 8, 9 AM-4 PM, Pole Green Park, Hanover – This celebration of the juiciest, most delicious tomato in the world offers rides, games, a petting zoo and local vendors plus more tomato dishes than you can shake a fork at.

*Pork, Peanut and Pine Festival – Saturday, July 15, 10 AM-7 PM and Sunday, July 16, 10 AM-5 PM, Chippokes Plantation State Park, Surry – A barbecue cookoff and local food vendors share what Southern Virginia is best known for: pork, peanuts and pine. A petting zoo, rock climbing wall and inflatable slide mean the kids will have plenty to do and see too.

*Henricus Discovery Program Days Program Series: Food of the 17th Century – Thursday, July 27, 10 AM-1 PM, Henricus Historical Park, Chester – Learn what breakfast, lunch and dinner would have looked like for a colonist or a Powhatan Indian. This program is perfect for kids ages 3-10 and includes a take-home craft.

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Get out there and have fun exploring this summer! What are your favorite places to visit in Virginia (or your state)?

Mid-Atlantic Fall Foodie Events

Fall is prime time for foodie events, and there are plenty to choose from in the mid-Atlantic region. These are some of the best:

Fire, Flour and Fork (Richmond, VA) – Nov. 17-20.  Since its inaugural year in 2014, this Richmond food extravaganza has evolved into a premier food showcase. This unique event offers an insider view of the food scene in the Capital City, from themed brunches, lunches and dinners to a full slate of classes, tours of regional food areas like the Rappahannock River with Merroir and culinary history events, like an Edna Lewis Sunday Supper.

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Heritage Harvest Festival (Charlottesville, VA) – Sept. 9-11. Set at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Heritage Harvest encompasses the world of gardening, farming, homesteading and food history. Beginning with an old-fashioned seed swap, this event offers a tomato, pepper and melon tasting, classes and tours based around Thomas Jefferson’s garden, talks by culinary historians and gardeners and much more. With luminary talent like Michael Twitty, Peter J. Hatch, Libby H. O’Connell and Joel Salatin on tap, this event promises to provide a wide range of voices on our founding father and his food.

Smithsonian Food History Weekend (Washington, DC) – Oct. 27-29. Each year, the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History presents a weekend of culinary history events. This year’s plans include an opening gala, “Dine Out for Smithsonian Food History” featuring Julia Child inspired dishes at local restaurants, a day of roundtable discussions, a food history festival and an evening devoted to the history of brewing in America.

Beast Feast (Beaverdam, VA) – Sept. 25. Put on at Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown by Richmond area butchers and food producers, this year’s Beast Feast celebrates Belmont Butchery’s 10th anniversary. This event features various meats cooked over an open fire, as well as local chef-made dishes, beers, wines and cocktails, all from local producers and bars.

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Cocktail Classes at Barmini (Washington, DC) – Bites, drinks and education on how to make some of the creative cocktails at the renowned Minibar by Jose Andres. Wednesdays at 5:30 pm on Sept. 28, Oct. 26, Nov. 23 and Dec. 21.

Uncorked Wine Festival (Washington, DC) – Sept. 24, 5-9 pm. Featuring over 50 regional wineries, local food trucks, live music and more, this new wine festival promises a good time. Held at the DC Armory in partnership with several local wine stores, Uncorked will also have a fun photo booth and wines from many countries around the world.

Underground Kitchen dining events (East Coast) – Throughout the coming months, Underground Kitchen offers a number of private dining events with well-known chefs. Whether you’re in Virginia (Richmond, Fredericksburg, Charlottesville or NoVA) or in another state (Raleigh, Asheville, Columbia or Baltimore), you’ll find interesting and engaging culinary events throughout the fall. From an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed meal to The Culinary Mosaic and even a single ingredient meal focused on saffron, there are plenty of fun events to enjoy.

Ironbound Wine and Food Expo (Newark, NJ) – Oct. 7-8. The inaugural Ironbound food expo centers around Spain’s tapas tradition, showcasing food and wine from the region. Carnival dancers, a cigar and porto lounge and a food expo round out the events for this exciting weekend.

I’m planning on hitting up a few of these. What about you?

Midtown State Fair

This afternoon, I hit up the Midtown State Fair at Libbie Mill Midtown. Presented by C.F. Sauer, King Arthur Flour, Libbie Mill Midtown, Richmond Region Tourism, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Real Richmond Food Tours and Wolf, this fun, family-friendly food event showcased the best of Richmond region food with vendor booths, food trucks and special activities like a cakewalk, watermelon seed spitting contest and cookoffs between local farmers.

The tented area hosted vendor booths from Mama J’s, Merroir, Caromont Cheese, Dayum This Is My Jam, Craft Brew Bread, Real Richmond Food Tours, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Belle Isle Moonshine and Libbie Market. There were plenty of delicious treats to try, plus free snowcones for the kids, giveaways from Richmond Family Magazine and The Valentine Museum and a fun cakewalk where participants had the chance to win yummy baked treats.

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Crabcakes from Merroir

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Music, seeds and veggies with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

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The awesome names of pickles and jam from Dayum This Is My Jam

Grapefruit spritzer from Belle Isle Craft Spirits

Cochon 555 Wrapup

Nearly a month ago, my husband and I had the privilege of experiencing the porcine insanity of Washington, DC’s Cochon 555 event. With the insanity of work and activities for our three kids, it’s taken me until now to sit down and wrapup my thoughts about the event. Here goes:

Cochon 555 is a traveling, nationwide event combining five heritage-breed pigs, five local chefs and five winemakers to put together a competition to crown the prince or princess of pork. Local winners then travel to the national Cochon event, where a king or queen of pork is crowned. Raising funds for heritage farming, the Cochon events have become showcases of the best in culinary arts in major cities across the country.

DC’s stop on the Cochon 555 tour took place at the Loews Madison hotel downtown. As the home of Cochon chef Louis Goral from on-property restaurant Rural Society Argentine steakhouse, the hotel seemed a fitting location for the event. We arrived a bit early and were greeted with three “welcome cocktails,” all featuring Buffalo Trace Bourbon:  “Five the Hard Way,” a blend of rhubarb, tamarind puree, hard cider and vermouth; “Peaches & Mazuma,” combining blood orange, white peach puree, black tea and pineapple and “Mango Derby Day,” a mint julep riff featuring flavors of vanilla and mango.

Those who had purchased VIP tickets had an hour to check out the first room without the rest of the ticket holders, however it seemed that either the VIP hour was not properly explained to arriving guests or they chose to ignore the instructions and no one was there to enforce the VIP policy. My husband and I noticed a number of non-VIP guests in the room well before VIP hour ended.

Once we were able to enter, we discovered a relatively tiny room that was filled to bursting with Cochon guests, all shoulder-to-shoulder in an attempt to discover the interesting experiences that had been arranged by the event organizers. From smoked Old Fashioned’s to a tiki bar to gourmet cheese sampling, oysters and fresh beef tartare, the “appetizer” portion of the event did not disappoint. But the space chosen for the event did. Unfortunately, the first room (as well as both other rooms) were simply too small for the number of attendees, leading to a feeling of being a sardine as my husband and I squeezed our way through the cramped room to try to see everything.

When we reached the beef tartare station on the opposite side of the room, the MC announced that the main room was about to open, and immediately the crowd began to move towards the doors of the main room. We pretty much completely missed the second room filled with wines, since we wanted to get into the main room as soon as the doors opened.

Once inside, our senses were overwhelmed by the crowd, the urgency and intensity of the prep and serving of the various pork dishes and the sounds and smells all around. In fact, due to the small space and large crowd, we eventually had to duck out for some air before venturing back inside to taste every dish so we could cast our votes. Chefs cooking at the event were Jennifer Carroll of Requin, Anthony Lombardo of The Hamilton, Louis Goral of Rural Society, Jonah Kim of Yona and Marjorie Meek-Bradley of Ripple.

Each chef created as many dishes as they could from their heritage-breed pig. Dishes ranged from soups to hot dogs to barbecue and Asian flavors. Preparations were simple and rustic or intensive and complex. Most of the dishes offered only a bite or two by which to gauge the creativity and skill of the chef.

Though the event organizers explained that there would be plenty of food for all guests, in reality this was not the case. Because of the “free-for-all” crowded atmosphere, there was no organization, no lines and no way to ensure that the more pushy and rowdy guests did not come back for seconds, thirds and more before other guests had a chance to try some of the dishes. There was no clear flow through the room, and my husband and I ended up completely missing dishes from one of the chefs because, by the time we made it to that end of the room through the crowd, all the food had been plated and given out.

All-in-all we enjoyed ourselves because of the nature of the event and the interesting experiences offered by the different brands and chefs (including Anthony Lombardo’s faux food truck and Requin’s elegant table in the back corner of a raised area). However, we saw a lot of room for improvement. With a ticket price of over $100, this event should be far better organized. The VIP hour should be monitored to ensure that those who pay extra for VIP truly receive their money’s worth without non-VIP guests nosing in on the action. For next year’s event in DC, a bigger venue is a must. Bigger rooms for the pre-event festivities, as well as a much bigger room for the main Cochon event would allow event attendees to mingle comfortably and really enjoy and experience each chef’s repertoire rather than feeling rushed and shoehorned into tight spaces. The pre-event cocktail experiences were amazing, but the overwhelming crowd made for a stressful rather than relaxing event.

Would I come back to Cochon 555 next year?  You bet I would.  IF the venue were big enough to accommodate the crowd and the number of tickets sold is limited to the size of the venue.

Did you go to Cochon 555 in DC this year?  What did you think?  Who was your choice for prince or princess of pork?  (Spoiler alert – I picked Jennifer Carroll of Requin.)