[Photographs by Andrea Hubbell. Words by Jenny Paurys.]
Saturday brought mild springtime temperatures, bright sunshine and clear blue skies — perfect weather for the Tom Yum food festival at the City Market in downtown Charlottesville.
Part of the Tom-Tom Founders Festival, Tom Yum featured the folks on the frontlines of local food, including farmers, vendors and artisans eager to share their knowledge. Beyond the Flavor was honored to have our own booth in the pink warehouse on South Street — a space we shared with MTO Kombucha and Weed Salad Bar, and Rare Lynx Epicurean Essentials — while Best of What’s Around grilled grass-fed steak outside.
We were equally honored by the presenters who took the stage at our booth. Chef Angelo Vangelopoulos from Ivy Inn Restaurant got the day started with Wilted Greens Skillet Cakes with Green Garlic Cream. Blanched, then chopped spring greens were folded into a savory buttermilk batter. Chef Angelo spooned the batter onto a griddle, creating small, three-inch diameter pancakes. Once browned on one side, they were flipped over to cook on the other side, before being popped onto plates, with a dollop of sour cream mixed with green garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. To this, Chef Angelo added a small piece of smoked trout — sourced from Ellen Nagase’s Rag Mountain Trout — and a garnish of baby spring greens.
Though he made rotating batches of 18 skillet cakes at a time, no sooner were they plated than they were nabbed by one of the many attendees circulating through the warehouse, giving truth to the old adage “fast as hotcakes.” And the reviews simply glowed. The smoked trout proved the perfect compliment to the rich flavor of the garlic cream, and both were offset by the tang of buttermilk and the earthy freshness of the greens in the skillet cakes.
Wilted Greens Skillet Cakes appear on the menu at Ivy Inn Restaurant throughout the spring. The original recipe came from a former sous chef at the restaurant — Michael McCarthy, now owner of Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie in North Garden — who brought it with him from San Francisco. The use of local greens and trout has given this well-traveled recipe a Central Virginian flare.
With a drum circle in full swing outside and the Tom Yum crowd both inside and outside the warehouse growing, it was time for Chef Harrison Keevil from Brookville Restaurant to demonstrate how to make Bacon Ice Cream Coke Floats. To do this, he set up a small, two-burner stove and a white Kitchenaid mixer. Behind him was a large tank of liquid nitrogen, which would be used in the freezing process.
By now, the audience was five people deep. Chef Harrison explained that he’d developed a love of Mexican Coca-Cola — which is sweetened with cane sugar rather than corn syrup — while living in San Francisco. He learned about bacon ice cream while working at The Fat Duck in London. That’s also where he learned how to use liquid nitrogen as a quick freezing method, allowing for a smoother ice cream without the ice crystals that can make it grainy.
The first step in the process is cooking down a pound of bacon — Brookville Restaurant uses bacon from The Rock Barn — until very crisp. The cooked bacon is then added to a quart of cream and both are refrigerated for 24 hours, so the flavor of the bacon is fully infused into the cream before they are separated. The next step is to make a custard, which Chef Harrison demonstrated for the crowd, whisking six egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and salt together. The cream is heated until just simmering, and then slowly added to the yolk mixture. Once it is fully incorporated, the custard is cooked gently until it reaches 185 degrees, then immediately cooled in an ice bath.
Chef Harrison poured the cooled custard into the bowl of the Kitchenaid mixer. He then took a quart-sized glass measuring cup and injected it with liquid nitrogen, which bubbled as it filled the cup. This he poured into the turning mixer, where it immediately evaporated, sending off a cloud that poured over the table, prompting a spontaneous, collective exclamation of delight from the assembled crowd.
Topped with a bit of Mexican coke, the floats were a true crowd pleaser. The ice cream had the smokey, salty, caramelized taste of bacon, but was sweet, dense and incredibly smooth thanks to the fast freezing process.
The energy at Tom Yum had been building all morning, and by the time Chef Mark Gresge and Chef de Cuisine Ian Redshaw of l’Etoile took to the station to make Shrimp & Grits, it felt as though a street party had fully engulfed the warehouse. The chefs were every bit as energetic, with Chef Ian sauteing two large pans of shrimp with cherry tomatoes, mirepoix, herbs, garlic, chopped bacon, butter, white wine and stock.
A large pot of grits simmered as well. Noting that there are “as many versions of this dish as there are stars in the sky,” Chef Mark told the audience that the corn grits came from Byrd Mill in Ashland, Virginia, where they are slowly stone ground, lending a slightly rougher texture. Mixed with stock, milk, butter and heavy cream, the thick cooked grits were spooned onto plates, then topped with a fat, pink shrimp, as well as a cherry tomato and a helping of the buttery sauce in which both had been simmering, with chives as a garnish.
The stone-ground process did indeed add texture to the grits, especially combined with the bacon, which Chef Ian makes at l’Etoile, along with a host of other smoked and cured meats. The buttery wine sauce from the shrimp enveloped the creamy grits. As with the other demonstrations, no sooner had the chefs set out the filled plates than they were lifted from the table by enthusiastic audience members. The drums continued to beat outside, building into a crescendo toward the end of the demonstration.
With the same skill and speed he’d used to create and plate the dish, Chef Ian cleared away the pots and pans to make way for the final demonstration, by Chef Dean Maupin of C&O Restaurant.
Steak Salad with Avocado and Jalapeno, which Chef Dean prepared for the Tom Yum crowd, found its origins at his own home, where he enjoys preparing woodgrilled steaks in the summertime. His wife, Erin, often whips up a simple avocado salad, and the dish has become a family favorite.
Chef Dean grilled the steaks — grass-fed beef from Best of What’s Around — ahead of the demonstration, then basted them in two pans, spooning a mix of butter, shallot and rosemary over top. As he turned the steaks in the pans, the beats from the drum circle began again, though in a more subdued manner, and indeed the mood had shifted to one you might find at a barbecue, with folks mingling and talking.
After they had finished basting, the steaks were then expertly sliced into thin pieces and plated beneath a salad of avocado, jalapeno, lemon and lime juice, red onion, salt and pepper, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Eager hands grabbed the plates, with a few folks even asking a bit sheepishly if they could enjoy seconds. Not a morsel was left.
We are deeply grateful to the chefs who volunteered their time to show us all some of their favorite dishes. For more where that came from, visit Chef Angelo Vangelopoulos at Ivy Inn Restaurant, Chef Harrison Keevil at Brookville Restaurant, Chef Mark Gresge and Chef de Cuisine Ian Redshaw at l’Etoile and Chef Dean Maupin at C&O Restaurant. (Chef Dean will also be preparing the meal at the Hill and Holler / Beyond the Flavor dinner on April 21!)
The Tom Yum festival was a resounding success, and we look forward to seeing what next year has in store. But we don’t want to have to wait that long to share the talents of more chefs from the Charlottesville area. We think a demonstration booth at City Market might be in order — what do you think?