Apple butter, blue curaçao, Belle Isle Moonshine and Halloween peeps. What do you get when you mix them all together?
How about a bartender challenge at Amuse in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts? The Fire, Flour & Fork event was a little like “Iron Chef” for alcohol, with a dash of “Chopped,” and the competition was high-powered.
Shannon Hood of Belle & James, Jason Lough of Sabai and Adam Stull of Postbellum raced against the clock to impress judges with cocktails made from surprise ingredients, while the crowd boozily sipped what seemed like an endless supply of their featured craft drinks. Hood was the winner and took home (or will take home when it gets back from the engravers) the John Dabney Cup.
Fire, Flour & Fork wasn’t all about alcohol, but there was plenty flowing. Although most of the chefs and cookbook authors weren’t quite as high-profile as last year’s inaugural group, a highlight of the two days of seminars and demonstrations was a tequila tasting by renowned distiller Germán González of T1 Tequila Uno.
Soft-spoken and sporting a straw fedora, González explained the craft tequila-making process from the eight-year lifecycle of the agave plant to barrel-aging and bottling. All the while, attendees sipped three different styles produced by his distillery.
González didn’t bring his most famous tequila, Tears of Llorona, with him — the one that’s been called the Pappy Van Winkle of tequila. But it was difficult to imagine how it could be better than the exceptional T1 Estelar Añejo, aged for two years in Scotch whiskey barrels. “My tequila will give you a much better night and a much easier morning,” González said.
At night, out-of-town chefs were paired with local counterparts at restaurants across town. James Beard award-winning chef Joe Kindred cooked at Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market’s Beet Café. Three-time James Beard finalist John Fleer took over Family Meal. And Atlanta’s Miller Union chef and cookbook author Steven Satterfield, another James Beard finalist, joined pop-up Longoven at the Robins Tea House at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, among many others.
One of the more unusual dinners took place at Frances Lewis’ house on Monument Avenue. The art collector’s curator, Jay Barrows, led a tour of a house that for many Richmonders is a touchstone of exuberant, even exotic, living, while functioning as an unlikely mecca for most major American artists of the 20th century.
Diners were surrounded by sculptural 1980s-era furniture and Tiffany lamps, with objects by artists dotting every surface. It was breathtaking to eat near an enormous Chuck Close painting that hangs adjacent to a piece by artist Jim Dine — there’s another in the dining room — with an Andy Warhol self-portrait across the hall and a complete set of Warhol’s “Marilyn” portraits upstairs.
Lewis’ personal chef, J. Frank, created food that matched the setting — foie gras mousse in the shape of mice, fluke carpaccio, and my favorite, Irish steelhead trout cured with Thai spices.
It was an exhausting, exhilarating weekend for food lovers and in the end, the most difficult part was trying to choose which remarkable event to experience.