“I’ll never forget it,” said Ivy Inn chef Angelo Vangelopoulos after a once-in-a-lifetime dinner last week at The Space Downtown. On the birthday of Mount Rushmore’s Thomas Jefferson, Vangelopoulos was joined by four other chefs named last year to Charlottesville’s own Mount Rushmore of Chefs in our annual C-VILLE food issue. These chefs had done it all—well, perhaps not quite all. They had never all cooked together.
It was for a good cause to boot: Every penny of ticket sales—$250 a head—went to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. The chefs volunteered their time, their restaurants donated ingredients, and local purveyors and vineyards contributed food and wine. My law firm, McGuireWoods, covered any residual costs. The sold-out crowd of 100 guests included friends and family of the chefs, food industry folks, business leaders, county officials, and University faculty, whose ticket purchases raised enough money to provide 100,000 meals to the area’s hungry.
The evening began with a reception of canapés, cheese from Everona Dairy and Caromont Farm, and charcuterie prepared just for the occasion by the chefs and The Rock Barn. Trump Winery Blanc de Blanc and Champion Missile IPA washed it all down.
Then guests sat down for a meal of five courses, one by each Mount Rushmore chef. First up was Tim Burgess, who, with Vincent Derquenne, founded the pioneering restaurant Metropolitain in 1992. Though it closed in 2004, some might say it had a greater influence on the way we eat in Charlottesville today than any other restaurant. Burgess now runs Bizou, Bang!, and The Space with Derquenne, but his dish would not have been out of place at Metropolitain: a deep green spring kale soup with cauliflower, potato, and oyster mushrooms. Early Mountain Vineyards’ bright, grassy rosé paired perfectly with the earthy soup.
Next was Melissa Close-Hart, who, as chef of Barboursville Vineyards’ Palladio Restaurant since 2000, has earned more national acclaim than any other area chef. Known for her fresh pasta, Close-Hart’s dish won raves: a ravioli of crab and house made mascarpone with gulf shrimp, white wine, preserved lemon, and clams from Rappahannock River Oyster Co. Barboursville Vineyards’ own Viognier was a natural pairing.
Batting third was Vangelopoulos, who had already wowed guests during the reception with miniature versions of his signature gyros. After nearly 20 years running the Ivy Inn with his wife Farrell, Vangelopoulos recently received a long-deserved James Beard Award nod as semi-finalist for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic. For the Mount Rushmore dinner, Vangelopoulos served Rag Mountain trout stuffed with crawfish atop a crispy grits cake with bacon butter sauce. He chose Blenheim Vineyard’s elegant Painted White to go with it.
Fourth in line was Craig Hartman, the chef who created the restaurant at Clifton Inn in 1992 and also ran the kitchen of Fossett’s restaurant at the Keswick Inn before opening The Barbeque Exchange in 2010. Hartman’s “duck three ways,” he said, was intended to capture both the spring season and his history of cooking. Duck legs, cured like ham and smoked over green hickory, rested on a plate under medium-rare pan-roasted duck breasts, with black-eyed pea cassoulet made from duck skin and leg trim. For a sauce, a demi-glace of puréed duck liver created a “fondue of foie gras,” as Hartman described it. He poured Pollak Vineyards’ 2010 Meritage, which last year won the Monticello Gold Cup as the best wine in all of Virginia.
Finally, Derquenne, tasked with dessert, presented a trio of African chocolate: White chocolate panna cotta with mango sauce; a French choux pastry called a religieuse with craquelin, filled with Madagascar chocolate cream and topped with Guerande salted caramel and a São Tomé chocolate macaroon; and an opera (a French cake), with salty caramel buttercream and Tanzanian chocolate. After describing his dish, Derquenne led the crowd in chants of “Vin-cent! Vin-cent!”
To accompany dessert, first there was a local quinquina-style wine made by Ben Jordan called War and Rust, which seems destined for cult status. Next, Shenandoah Joe’s Dave Fafara matched an African coffee with the African chocolate, Yirgacheffe Kochere, from Ethiopia.
After dinner, it was hard to tell who enjoyed the evening more, the guests or the chefs. “What an incredible evening!” said Michael McKee, CEO of the food bank. “It felt like a cross between opening night and an intimate dinner party.”
“It was an honor and very humbling to be part of such a talented crew,” Vangelopoulos told his Mount Rushmore peers. “Each of you has influenced and inspired me over the years, and what a great feeling when it all comes full circle.”
I’m with him. I’ll never forget it.