The culinary world in general is a small and intimate one, and in a town the size of Charlottesville, it’s akin to an extended family. Like most extended families, Charlottesville’s culinary clan can be dysfunctional or wild from time to time, but when faced with a tragedy within, ranks are closed and everyone responds with their heart and soul. On August 18 at Glass Haus Kitchen, a veritable who’s who of the local culinary world gathered to raise money for two of their own, chef Melissa Close-Hart of Palladio Restaurant at Barboursville Vineyards and her husband, Matthew Hart of The Local, who lost their home to a fire in mid-July.
The event’s organizer, Mike Yager of Glass Haus, explained how it all came about. “We heard Melissa had a fire. I ran over to her house. I saw the damage and came back and started scheming right away,” he said.
Glass Haus chef Ian Boden, who attended culinary school with Close-Hart and prepared the night’s first course, said, “As cooks and chefs, we don’t have a lot of perks in this world, but one of the things we do have is the community we are a part of. It’s always a pretty tight-knit community, so our reaction to any kind of a disaster is to feed people. It’s what we do.”
Each of the night’s five courses were prepared by a different area chef—Jeremy Butterfield of Stonefire Kitchen and Diego Gottardo of Palladio; Craig Hartman and Brooks Tanner of BBQ Exchange; and Curtis Shaver of Hamiltons’ at First & Main, plus the night’s hosts, Boden and Yager.
“Personally, what I want to get out of this is to hang out with a bunch of my buddies and do something good for somebody in the community,” Yager said. “Melissa is like a mother to me. My mom in Arizona deemed her my ‘Virginia Mother.’” And Yager wasn’t the only one in the kitchen with that kind of a connection.
Hartman, one of the elder statesmen of the Charlottesville culinary scene, came from his Gordonsville ’Q joint to help out a longtime friend and colleague.
“We hired Melissa at the Clifton Inn after her first internship from the New England Culinary Institute,” he said. “We fell in love with her right away—her cooking and everything about her.“ After leaving Clifton—which donated to the silent auction—and opening a place in Colorado called the Cliff House, Hartman needed a sous chef. “Right away I thought of her, and oh my gosh, what a job she did.”
All told, about 90 guests filled Glass Haus for the event, including a few other culinary luminaries from around the region who chose to eat rather than cook. Chef Tomas Rahal of MAS; Gay Beery of A Pimento Catering and her husband, Josef; Collins Huff and his wife, Ramona, of Gryffon’s Aerie meats; and chef Amalia Scatena of Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyard were all in attendance, to name a few.
When it was all over, attendees had consumed pickled okra, corn gnocchi, striped bass, achiote pork, and oatmeal cream pie, with wine donated by Barboursville and Pollak vineyards.
Said Close-Hart between tears, “It’s meant a lot to us—all this food, friends, and family coming together to help us out in a time of need. The food is awesome, with the Charlottesville heavy hitters in the kitchen. Even if you didn’t know me and Matty, to come here for this dinner would be amazing. We’re just so thankful.”