Historic moments in the Charlottesville food scene are rare. They’re not really our thing. But, if ever a date qualified as “historic” for Charlottesville restaurants, June 4 sure did. That was when Dave Simpson completed the sale of his legendary C&O Restaurant to chef Dean Maupin. The transition had been in the works for months, as Simpson hired Maupin last year to begin running the restaurant in preparation for the sale.
Maupin is one of the few chefs worthy of carrying the torch of a Downtown restaurant that The Washington Post once called “the least prepossessing fine restaurant in America.” A native of the area, Maupin began his cooking career in Charlottesville, and then trained at top restaurants around the country before returning to work at local giants like Metropolitain and The Boar’s Head. He eventually climbed to the pinnacle of the Charlottesville food world, becoming executive chef first at The Clifton Inn and then at Fossett’s at Keswick Hall, which he left last year to join C&O.
I recently spoke with Maupin about the challenge of taking over an institution which, at 37, is just one year younger than Maupin himself.
CSD: Rising chefs often long to open their own restaurant. After reaching the top of the Charlottesville culinary world, what made you decide to buy an existing restaurant rather than open your own?
Dean Maupin: I bought the restaurant because Dave Simpson believed in me enough to pass on the torch. No matter the asking price, it was a deal I could not refuse.
What is it like to take over an institution like the C&O?
Humbling to say the least. It’s an honor really. There is a great deal to live up to, and I am excited about that.
The C&O has a decorated history with many longtime regular customers. What aspects of the C&O do you plan to leave unchanged?
My plan is not to change a thing. The C&O has a life of its own. I simply plan to stay true to the restaurant’s history and continue to be original, offer great service, and serve great food and drink. I do plan to celebrate food and drink as much as we can, perhaps doing a few wine dinners and tasting menus.
The C&O’s bar is famous for its food, drinks, and atmosphere. What do you think makes the bar so beloved, and what plans do you have for it?
I have no plans for the bar. That room has not changed in over 30 years and it’s my place to make sure it does not change for 30 more.
How would you describe your approach to cooking?
My approach is to try and make it as tasty as I can—use the best stuff, be consistent and original.
You first cooked at the C&O nearly 20 years ago. How has the Charlottesville food world changed since then?
I think a lot of winemakers, farmers, and chefs took the chance and planted roots, and grew the food scene to what it is today. A lot of risk-taking has clearly paid off.
Do you have any personal favorites on the menu?
I always love the warm chocolate tart. The snapper with shellfish broth always brings me great comfort. I can always get down on the fresh pasta appetizers.
Your wife Erin is a very talented pastry chef who retired to raise your three young children. Any chance her famous cookies or other goodies will appear at the C&O?
My wife’s influence is all over the menu. Most of the desserts we are doing now are her recipes.
Purchasing the C&O means you’ll likely be in Charlottesville for a while. What do you like about the Charlottesville area?
I was born and raised in Albemarle County. Charlottesville has always been home and fulfills my family in many ways—the schools, people, food, and history, all of which mean a great deal to us. We are inspired to live in this community.
Days off must be rare, but how do you like to spend a good day off?
At home in the yard with my kids, being silly.