The day began at Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s Brasserie Beck, where a gaggle of DC’s top chefs, budding interns and local food lovers collected for breakfast, coffee and a roadmap. The line-up included Chef Clifford Wharton of Matchbox, Chef RJ Cooper of Rogue 24, Chef KN Vinod of Indique Restaurant, Chef Paul Stearman of Marcel’s, Chef Ris Lacoste of Ris, Chef Roberto Donna of Galileo III and more. After introductions and the beginnings of controlled debauchery, the rumbling two-wheeled parade of leathered chefs cruised down the George Washington Memorial Parkway toward Virginia’s farmland.
First Stop – Flirting with Lettuce
Endless Summer Harvest is a high-tech hydroponic lettuce farm in Purcelville. Imagine Epcot’s Living with the Land meets Loudoun County friendliness. As the chefs shut off their rumbling engines and removed their helmets, they were greeted with a refreshing cup of sparkling water garnished with a butter-lettuce-wrapped lime wedge. The dolled up S.Pellegrino was the first sign that this family operated farm knew exactly how to please their audience.
Endless Summer’s Mary Ellen Taylor loves her lettuce. During our greenhouse walk-through, the chefs watched in awe as she ripped the lettuce heads from their watery womb and waved them in the air like chickens at a Delhi market. Taylor insisted the chefs tasted, admired, and felt the “flirtiness” of the leaves between their fingers. They willingly obeyed. The iron-rich and peppery flavors of the arugula, watercress and frisée sold the show. Talk about being green – 90% of the water used to keep these lettuces moistened is recycled. In addition, the lack of soil erases all risks for the dreaded and all-too-common e-coli bacteria.
The leafy goods are available all-year-round for purchase thanks to their computer-controlled system that releases well water and nutrients, and controls the temperature. Even Emeril Lagasse recently approved of Endless Summer’s lettuce at the Whole Foods Market in Fairfax during one of his presentations, and José Andrés is a paying customer! Never to fear lettuce lovers – chefs are not the only ones who can serve up these dreamy leaves. Look for Endless Summer’s lettuce at the Penn Quarter farmers’ market on Thursdays and Dupont Circle on Sundays.
Second Stop – Keeping Up the Spirits
Catoctin Creek Distillery of Purcelville is one of the few of its kind. Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets the fermentation process.
Becky and Scott Harris found love in Virginia in the form of whiskey, gin and brandy. When this pair is not grueling over Commonwealth bureaucracy, they are bringing you the finest organic and locally produced spirits. It’s even kosher. Talk about a “mom-and-pop shop” – this distillery’s sole employees are, in fact, only Mom and Pop and rest assured they have touched every bottle. Sticking true to form, their recipe is similar to the one ol’ George Washington drank.
As the chefs settled snuggly into the tiny warehouse space, Scott Harris spoke of the scientific steps needed to create the genuine sort of spirit. Somewhere in between boiling and condensing, the chefs were itching for their own taste.
Want to pass the afternoon in the distillery? Catoctin offers a bottling workshop for people who are willing to volunteer their labor in exchange for sips and pizza. It is the alcoholic equivalent of bringing the kids to a farm to learn from where meat comes. Is this the next remedy to combat drunk driving? Keep your eyes peeled for the next opportunity here.
Third Stop – Tomatoes and Pies, Oh My!
Stoneybrook Farm in Hillsboro settles upon the lushest of Virginian lands. The story of this little seven-acre farm gone big warmed the hearts of the chefs as well as the welcoming treats of local cheese and cherry tomatoes.
Outbidded by Stoneybrook in 2006, developers had this plot of land en route to hosting a cement palace. Now the 35-acre slice of heaven holds everything your organic brain can wrap itself around. In July 2010, Stoneybrook opened up the quintessential farm store and welcoming center on the property, replacing its original 2007 farm stand. Besides doubling their profit every year since their start, Stoneybrook makes their own pies and fabulous sandwiches for visitors and sends off 40 cases a week to Whole Foods Markets in Fairfax, Tysons Corner and Alexandria. They now have in the making plans to construct an amphitheater that will sit 800 people for summer concerts and plays.
Involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) much? Learn how you can join Stoneybrook’s next growing season here. Rather shop around? Look for their produce at the Palisades Farmers Market. Stoneybrook also hosts an international volunteer program through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). The farm can support 12 “wwoofers” at a time.
Role Call – Cattlemen and Wine
The final stop, family owned Notaviva Vineyards in Purcellville, meant lunch, drinks and the last informative session of the day by the Blue Ridge Cattlemen’s Association. While windblown, chefs ate lunch and cooled off as they listened to the endless fences local cattlemen must jump to get their slabs to our plates.
Despite the difficulties of local processing, inspection and transportation, the cattleman rep spoke about how eager the association is to set up direct distributions with local restaurants.
The chefs cured their dissatisfaction with the red tape surrounding the meat industry by sipping on Notaviva’s delicious Virginia wine. Stephen Mackey, the owner of Notaviva, inspired the group with stories of comradery between wineries in the area and about his work developing a regional identity.
Brasserie Beck’s Wiedmaier spoke for all of the chefs in attendance that day when he said “that the places visited were perfect. To be able to find local mom- and-pop operations only an hour outside of DC who do their work with passion was excellent.” Wiedmaier continued by saying “he will definitely follow up” with some of the local contacts made.
Chefs Go Fresh was hosted by the Georgetown Media Group, which publishes The Georgetowner and The Downtowner, in collaboration with the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development.