The new and packed Southern Season closed its doors early Monday night to hold a Hamilton Beach-sponsored Underground Kitchen.
For $45, guests could visit 11 stations to sample small bits of specialty food. A few local gems included Gearheart's ginger chocolate bar and Pickled Silly's dilly beans. Mike Ledesma, head chef at Patina, gave whirlwind cooking demonstrations for anyone who could find a seat or standing room during the two-hour event.
Of note was the creamy green tea crème brûlée, artfully demonstrated in a sparkly new Hamilton Beach blender and convection oven. Tasting pours of wine from varying local distributors also were available. You can find information on Underground Kitchen events online at theundergroundkitchen.org. — Robey Martin
Packed plate: If you want to get in on the action at Southern Season, you've got plenty of options to choose from. Here's a sampling of the gourmet grocer's events to close out August:
Wednesday, Aug. 20: In honor of Julia Child's birthday, cooking school chefs will show students how to prepare such classic recipes as mushroom and spinach crepes and shrimp étouffée. 6 p.m., $35.
Sunday, Aug. 24: Learn the ins-and-outs of pastry cooking from former White House chef Roland Mesnier. The class promises "tales of Ronald Reagan's chocolate mousse binges" and "Barbara Bush's love of dry, overcooked fish." 1 p.m., $55.
Saturday, Aug. 23: Brian Moore of Richmond's Robins Cellars curates a free wine tasting from an extensive portfolio. Noon.
Saturday, Aug. 30: The Blues and Brews Party at the on-site Southerly Restaurant will feature cold draft beers, a grilled barbecue buffet and — of course — plenty of blues music. $19 per person, $29 with beer. 5 p.m. Reservations recommended. 2250 Staples Mill Road, 855-592-3446. southernseason.com.
West End Whisky
Philip Denny, former executive chef at Six Burner and Aziza's on Main, has signed on at McCormack's Big Whisky Grill in the West End, which is shooting for an Oct. 1 opening.
Denny had been tapped to head up the kitchen at the upcoming Greenleaf's Pool Room in the John Marshall Building, but has left the project.
"Philip's got a pretty amazing reputation," says Big Whisky Grill owner Mac McCormack. "I was really excited to see that he was interested in doing it because I know that he can do it better than most can."
There's going to be a somewhat different structure to the kitchen: Two executive chefs will trade off on duties. McCormack says he's far along in talks with the second chef, but isn't ready to make an announcement: "It's somebody that, I would say, is just as important in skill as Philip is."
McCormack's Big Whisky Grill essentially will be an upsized version of the existing Whisky Grill in the Fan. It will be large enough to be corporate-function friendly for the West End, with private dining rooms that can seat as many as 400 people.
"I feel like the West End is actually really underserved," McCormack says. "Since I moved to Richmond in the '80s, there's never been a really good locally owned restaurant out there."
Coming soon: Specific launch dates for Graffiato, the Richmond offshoot of acclaimed chef Mike Isabella's popular Washington Italian restaurant, are circulating locally. Officially, it's "in a few weeks," but details on the highly anticipated restaurant's launch — and any special events — are expected soon. With the complex nature of the undertaking, launch dates often are rolling affairs for restaurants. But once it's open, diners can explore a changing menu of handmade pastas, oven-baked pizzas and Italian small plates that made the Washington spot famous. 123 W. Broad St. graffiatorva.com.
Forty years baked: The pizza purveyors at Mellow Mushroom are celebrating their 40th anniversary. Diners at the busy Carytown location have reason to celebrate this ruby anniversary Wednesday, Aug. 20, when the chain will knock back the prices on a classic combo to 1974 levels: $2.50 for a small cheese pizza, 30 cents for Coca-Cola and 75 cents for Pabst Blue Ribbon, Michelob or Budweiser. 3012 W. Cary St., 370-8210.
Meal and a show: Richmond CenterStage has released details on its Chicks & Waffles Drag Brunch coming to the Carpenter Theatre on Aug. 31. Expect the food — and the performers — to be both sweet and spicy. The food includes Cajun fried chicken and waffles topped with watermelon or bourbon syrup, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, bacon and biscuits. The performers include host Ellia J. Garlands, veteran local performer Millennium Snow, former Miss VA Capital City Pride Monica Duvall Ferrah, Style's Best of Richmond winner Michelle Livigne and newcomer diva Vivienne Hardwood. The show starts at 10:30 a.m. and admission is $30. Reservations are recommended. CenterStage, 600 E. Grace St. 592-3339.