Some convergence of the stars brought both The Food Network and Food & Wine magazine to Richmond last week. Both were here to check out the culinary scene, with television über-chef Bobby Flay creating a wild stir on the University of Richmond campus.
Flay was in town on a supposed-to-be-secret mission to challenge Buz Grossberg, owner of Buz and Ned's Real Barbecue, to a throw-down on rib-making. Grossberg had been told to appear at UR as part of a Food Network pilot show called "BBQ 101."
But Grossberg had to feign surprise when Flay showed up because he'd been tipped off by a source who didn't quite get the ambush factor in the show's theme.
UR students, just back from spring break, screamed when Flay appeared, semi-rock-star-style, and issued his cooking challenge. He and his Food Network team had already prepared a curry-cumin barbecue sauce in the kitchens of the Omni Hotel here, and they set up grills on campus to fire the ribs and begin the competition.
Grossberg had already rolled in his mobile smoker rig and was doling out ribs and sides his incomparable collard greens and potato salad to ravenous students. Flay's more exotic ribs weren't as well-received by some in the crowd, but dozens of students lined up for pictures and autographs with the star.
Paul John, a philosophy and studio art major, challenged Flay to a personal throw-down with ingredients in his nearby campus apartment: tuna fish and Velveeta. Good idea, Flay said, smiling. But he caught the next flight out of Richmond before that dish could be concocted.
"Throwdown! With Bobby Flay" is expected to air its Richmond episode in May (stay tuned to Short Order for a date). Sympathetic viewers may note that one of the judges had a very difficult time eating big slabs of sauce-covered ribs with any level of decorum in front of the cameras. (But they sure tasted good both kinds.)
Food & Wine magazine also made a surreptitious visit last weekend, cramming almost a dozen Richmond restaurants into an eating itinerary that would be daunting to the biggest chowhound. But that's what the work requires.
Places the writer checked out included Perly's, Acacia and Rowland Fine Dining, among others they'd read about in Style Weekly. The writer's favorite dish was venison carpaccio at Dogwood Grille & Spirits, which earned the title of Style's Restaurant of the Year in 2006.
Who will earn the title this year? Find out next week in State of the Plate, when our critics reveal Richmond's best restaurants and our 2007 Restaurant of the Year. S