Craig Hartman, executive chef at Keswick Hall and its restaurant, Fossett’s, may be one of the area’s original locavores. Over lunch on a recent afternoon, Restaurantarama had an opportunity to reflect with Hartman on his long culinary career and his particular devotion to Virginia-made foodstuffs. Despite the chichi surroundings and the European-esque elegance of the buffet-style meal set out in the hotel’s Villa Crawford room (available to the public for $19 a person), there was plenty of familiar hometown fare to enjoy, including pâté made from Jameson Farm’s rabbit and Polyface Farm’s chicken braised in Blenheim Vineyards Viognier.
“I’ve been doing this 36 years, and some days I think, ‘I don’t know anything,’” Hartman tells us, with refreshing modesty for such an experienced chef. But we think he probably knows a lot after spending 1992 through 2000 as innkeeper and executive chef at Charlottesville’s own Clifton Inn, another several years as manager and executive chef of The Cliff House in Colorado Springs and four years as an instructor and executive chef at Cornell University’s Hotel School. And Hartman likes to share all of that hard-earned education, whether it’s during Keswick’s monthly cooking schools or during the “Chef’s Amuse,” held Thursday through Saturday from 5pm to 6pm, when Hartman prepares and discusses small tastings of local and seasonal foods that he incorporates into Fossett’s’ menu.
Chef Craig Hartman gives Keswick residents Tia Schurecht and Jay Golding a few tips for using onions while cooking.
We learned some interesting facts just over lunch with the charismatic cook, and one story proves how smitten Hartman is with Virginia-made goods. While in Colorado—a state known for its sheep-raising—the chef continued to order his lamb from Summerfield Farm in Culpeper. The Colorado Springs food establishment was so shocked by this fact that the Colorado Springs Gazette was prompted to host a blind lamb taste-off, pitting three racks from Summerfield against selections from Colorado as well as New Zealand. And you can probably guess where this is going—the judges (a few Colorado chefs, including Hartman) preferred all three Summerfield samplings to the competition (see “Virginia Dry-Aged Lamb Bleats the Competition in Taste-Test,” Colorado Springs Gazette, April 19, 2000).
With the superior product around here (not to mention the food-mileage issues), it’s no wonder Hartman finally returned to the source and took over the executive chef spot at Keswick in 2006. Also, between the monthly cooking school, the periodic wine dinners, the Chef’s Amuse and the hotel’s numerous other culinary offerings, the guy has a rather large sandbox in which to play at this particular gig. And though all of that is a pretty big job, Hartman says he doesn’t have to worry about other business operations as he did at Clifton or The Cliff House—a situation that suits him just fine. “I’m a chef at heart,” he says. Restaurantarama feels your love, chef.
From hobby to shop
Theresa Tapscott, executive director of the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, has been an amateur cook for years, catering events for her friends and family. But recently, she’s grown tired of the canapés strewn across her own counters. “I swore I’d never do it again out of my own home!” she says. The good news is now she can cook without dirtying her own sink. In March, Tapscott bought the lunch counter/catering business Soup to Nuts, located in the Market Square office complex on E. Market Street, from its previous owner, Kathy Kildea. In addition to catering business lunches and events for such clients as the Senior Center and the Tandem Friends School, Soup to Nuts offers Monday through Friday take-out lunch fare, such as hot pastrami on sourdough and “grown-up” grilled cheese sandwiches with brie and goat cheese. The shop also offers frozen take-home dinner entrees, which is a side of the business that Tapscott says she hopes to grow in the near future.
Hail to the ales
There are at least two reasons to raise a glass this week. First, Restaurantarama has learned that Starr Hill Brewery’s Dark Starr Stout won a silver medal at the Brewer Association World Beer Cup 2008 competition in San Diego a few weeks ago. Second, there’s no need to actually go on a beer run these days, as Beer Run on Carlton Road now offers a delivery service. Check out BeerRun.cc for the details.
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