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A Taste of Virginia

State Fair of Virginia launches culinary event benefitting students.


“Virginia doesn’t have a city that’s the next New Orleans or Austin, Texas,” says Virginia Beach chef and educator Kip Poole. “We should’ve had that kind of city 100 years ago. Our food and history and culture are amazing – every food story in the country links to Virginia.”

Poole is one of seven celebrity chefs participating in this year’s State Fair of Virginia Taste of Virginia celebration at the Meadow Event Park manse in Caroline County. This brand-new, philanthropic tasting event highlights the state’s agricultural industry and culinary talent, showcasing the bounty of 14 farms, three wineries, two breweries and one distillery.

“I started reaching out to people I knew, doing my own research to find chefs who each have a unique story and a connection to the community,” says Christy Murphy, fundraising coordinator for Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (Virginia AITC) and the brains behind Taste of Virginia.

Virginia Beach chef and educator Kip Poole.
  • Virginia Beach chef and educator Kip Poole.

Murphy did not hesitate to slide into chefs’ Instagram messages, or to cold call Poole, who says he was all too happy to hear about the foundation’s new fund-raising event.

The Portsmouth, Va. native studied food science and hospitality at Virginia Tech before relocating to Philadelphia for more than a decade. “The entire 13 years I was there I just wanted to come home to Virginia,” says Poole.

Poole’s Philly silver lining was working at an inner-city high school where he developed a wildly successful culinary and agriculture program. “I will always find something good in every kid, and these kids really needed someone to find something good in them,” says Poole, who received his master’s in education while living in Philadelphia.

In eight years, Poole grew a culinary program from four to 420 kids and turned half an acre of land into 23 acres, where students grew their own food. “We had animals and everything.”

Poole says that when he started to learn more about the mission of Virginia AITC, he knew he would be not only a willing, but a very enthusiastic, participant.

From cornfields to classrooms

“In training that we’ve done, I’ve had college students who had no idea peanuts grew underground, or what the difference is between meat cows and dairy cows,” says Virginia AITC executive director Tammy Maxey. “It’s so exciting to see eyes someone’s eyes light up, whether it’s a teacher in their last year or a preschooler in their first.”

Maxey has worked at schools in both the classroom and administrative level for years. She currently raises beef cattle with her husband in Amelia County and is an inveterate proponent of agricultural literacy.

Agriculture in the Classroom is a national program, and the Virginia branch has been around since the 1980s. It wasn’t until 1992, though, that the foundation became its own freestanding nonprofit, with chief support from the Virginia Farm Bureau.

Virginia AITC’s goal is to provide free agricultural literacy to children K-12, connecting educators with resources – from lesson plans to egg incubators to hydroponics – that they can tie in seamlessly with an existing curriculum.

Students work in the garden.
  • Students work in the garden.

Each March, the nonprofit reaches 60,000 schoolchildren during Agriculture Literacy Week, and since its inception, Virginia AITC has served more than 350,000 educators and more than 3,500,000 students.

“We’ve grown exponentially over the last few years,” Maxey says. “We’ve really had to step up our fund-raising game.”

While the nonprofit has hosted golf tournament and clay shoot fundraisers in the past, a culinary tasting event of this scope is certainly unchartered territory.

“We want children to understand the importance of growing our own food,” says Maxey.

Murphy, who joined the small but mighty Virginia AITC staff this year, figured the best way to showcase the state’s flourishing agriculture industry was to let folks taste it.

Nothing like homegrown

“This truly is a taste of Virginia, we have people representing a good part of the state,” says Murphy. “I think it’s important for us to demonstrate how big of an industry agriculture is here.”

When guests arrive at the Meadow Event Park, they’ll be given an informational “map” delineating all the delicious stations where Virginia grown goods will be served expertly by seven esteemed chefs.

In addition to Poole, the six other featured chefs include: Richmond native Steve Glenn, who finished as a finalist on the show “Hell’s Kitchen” and currently serves as the Underground Kitchen’s culinary director; Richmond-based personal chef and Green Kitchen owner Tammy Brawley; Richmond empire-maker Mike Lindsey, who currently owns and operates more than a half dozen culinary concepts and is chef/owner/founder of Lindsey Food Group; Charlottesville-based Antwon Brinson, founder of Culinary Concepts AB, and featured chef on HBO’s “The Big Brunch;” Hampton Roads-based wunderkind Kaniyah Cary, one of the “Kids Baking Champion Season 3” top three finalists, star on “Kids Grilling Invitational” and current owner of KC’s Buttercream Sweet Shoppe; and The Roosevelt executive chef Leah Branch, who has appeared on “The Today Show,” Cooking Channel's “Sugar Showdown” and in Style Weekly’s own Top 40 under 40 class of 2023.

“I don’t think many children growing up – especially in areas like Richmond – have an idea about starting a career in agriculture,” says Branch.

Executive Chef Leah Branch of The Roosevelt in Church Hill. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Executive Chef Leah Branch of The Roosevelt in Church Hill.

As The Roosevelt exec chef, Branch has worked tirelessly the past two years to establish meaningful connections with Virginia growers and was more than happy to devote time to this event, which not only benefits Virginia AITC, but also the State Fair of Virginia scholarship program.

The Chesterfield native says she’ll be serving a rendition of a confit turkey dish, using “all the parts of the turkey.” A true taste of harvest season, the turkey will be “crisped up in duck fat” and served over a rich, earthy gravy with melted leeks, a sweet pepper hash and pickled squash.

Branch is sourcing from all Virginia farms, naturally, including Crozet’s KellyBronze Turkeys, where she got her own holiday turkey last year, as well as Southside Virginia Grower’s Association.

To complement the turf, Poole will be setting up a mini raw bar for guests to sample. “Oysters are exactly how they’re supposed to taste, especially the Ruby Salts.” Poole says the Cherrystone Creek bivalves possess a “super in-depth and complex flavor.”

“You’re getting the salinity and the melons and almost an umami flavor,” he says. Alongside the oysters, Poole will be serving a Honey River Farm (White Stone) mignonette, a Studley Farms (Hanover) bacon jam and a Harvue Farms (Berryville) pimiento cheese.

“Virginia is my home,” says Poole. “I’m really trying to pioneer the food scene. I want people to know and recognize what we’re doing here. There are big food and wine festivals held in cities like Aspen and Charleston and yes those places are beautiful. But Virginia is beautiful, too.”

Taste of Virginia takes place Thursday, Sept. 28 from 6 - 8 p.m. at the Meadow Event Park. Tickets are $100 per person or $150 per couple and include admission to the fair, premium parking and access to the fair’s Thursday evening concert series performance.

Learn more about Virginia AITC here, and keep up to date with fund-raising events via their Facebook page.