DOSWELL—The inaugural Taste of Virginia was not your typical farm-to-table dinner.
The meal, which paired celebrity chefs with Virginia-grown ingredients during the State Fair of Virginia on Sept. 28, was atypical.
Instead of a sit-down dinner, this was a walk-around-and-find-your-food-and-beverage event. Seven celebrity chefs prepared a variety of specialties using Virginia-grown products from 14 different farms.
The 200 guests were encouraged to follow a “Passport for Your Palate” guide to discover the different chefs and their creations. Guests also could grab a beverage from Virginia craft breweries, wineries and distilleries—all while wandering through the historic Meadow Hall.
“The dinner was memorable and wonderful,” remarked Hana Newcomb, manager of Potomac Vegetable Farms in Loudoun and Fairfax counties. “It was not what I expected at all. I have been to plenty of farm-to-table dinners, and they usually involve sitting at a long table with people you don’t know, for a long time, making conversation between courses that take too long to arrive.”
Newcomb attended Taste of Virginia because she wanted to see how the vegetables her farm provided were used. “And it was my birthday, and my husband likes to go to fairs,” she added.
“The food was well-executed,” Newcomb noted, adding that it was fun to discover what was made with her farm’s peewee potatoes. “One chef was frying these tiny nickel-sized slices, and someone else was roasting these itty-bitty cubes of beets and then assembling the beets and potatoes into a bite-sized little tower with a sauce.”
She also appreciated talking to the chefs and learning how appreciative they are to cook with locally grown foods.
And unlike other farm-to-table events that may generate a profit for the host farm, Taste of Virginia raised $20,000 for three nonprofit organizations. The beneficiaries are Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom, which provides free agriculture-focused educational materials for teachers; the State Fair of Virginia Scholarship Program, which provides scholarship money for students who compete at the fair; and the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability, which offers assistance to people involved in value-added agriculture.
Mike Cullipher of Cullipher Farms in Virginia Beach contributed apples, peaches, pumpkins and gourds for the event. He said his produce farm gets many requests for donations, and he felt that Taste of Virginia was a worthy cause.
“Any time we can do something to help Agriculture in the Classroom, we know something good will come out of it,” he noted.
In the summer, Whitney Perkins, assistant director of VA FAIRS, had contacted farmers across the state to ask for food items requested by the celebrity chefs. Newcomb said only a few of those items would be in season in late September, which made it a challenge.
“We knew what day we had to have this order ready—we don’t usually do restaurant orders because we’re a direct marketing farm,” she explained. “So, we started to squirrel away some red onions and some peewee potatoes, and we kept watch over our parsley.”
At the dinner, chefs were able to create dishes with fresh beets, collard greens, corn, peaches, potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon and more.
“Our agricultural producers, local chefs, vineyards, breweries and farm markets truly showed a taste of Virginia to our audience,” said Tammy Maxey, executive director of the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. “It was interesting to watch the guests learn more about the farm-to-table concepts occurring right before their eyes.”
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